President's Message - Put Care First!

Sisters and Brothers,

Your Provincial Contract Action Team (ProCAT) is looking to ramp up our efforts to demand fairness and safety in health care.

We’ll be looking to our members to help ensure their communities are aware of the severe understaffing happening in health care.

A fair contract would definitely help.

If you are interested in setting up a Put Care first end understaffing event (i.e. info picket, leafleting, etc.) in your community, reach out to your ProCAT member or use the event request form to let us know.

We will provide the resources such as leaflets, necessary funding, checklists, etc. but it is vital to have a local unit members engaged and involved.

We all have to work together to keep up the pressure so we can successfully resolve this collective agreement.

Please remember to show your support for our bargaining efforts.  You can contact the Minister of Finance, Donna Harpauer (306) 787-6060 OR [email protected];  the Minister of Health, Jim Reiter (306) 787-7345 OR [email protected]; the new Minister of Rural and Remote Health, Warren Kaeding (306) 798-9014 OR [email protected]; or your very own MLA. Explain to them the need for a fair offer; and how an adequate monetary package is necessary to recruit and retain quality staff. You can also send a letter to your MLA with a simply click on our campaign. If you would like some assistance, call the MRC at 1-888-999-7348 extension 1 and an officer will put you in contact with someone who will help you.

Remember we’re all in this together!

Please keep an eye on the SEIU-West website and your union bulletin board. And follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for information updates.

In solidarity,

Barbara Cape, SEIU-West President 

Open Letter to Premier Scott Moe: We Need A New Deal with Health Providers

On October 31, 2019, SEIU-West President Barb Cape sent the below open letter to Premier Scott Moe. Click here to view the signed letter

Dear Premier Moe:

RE: A New Deal with Health Providers

On October 22, the day after the federal election, you issued an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau titled “A New Deal with Canada”.

In it, you issued an urgent challenge to the Prime Minister to make good on his commitments to better address the needs and concerns of Saskatchewan people.

In that same spirit, I issue this urgent challenge to you: be fair to those who care.

Over the past several years, your government, through the health sector employers it mandates and funds, has neglected the basic needs of thousands of workers who provide the vast majority of front-line health care services to Saskatchewan people. This strategy has resulted in chronic understaffing in the health care sector, to the detriment of patients, clients and residents. I ask you now to put care first.
In ratification votes held this spring in the former Saskatoon, Five Hills, Cypress and Heartland Health regions, SEIU-West’s 12,000 members soundly rejected the employer’s offer of 0%/0%/1%/2%/2%. In bargaining since then, the employer, with direction from the Ministry of Health, has stubbornly refused to budge from this offer.

The sense of frustration and alienation among our members is now greater than it has been at any point since 2008, when the Government of Saskatchewan introduced essential services legislation which seriously undermined bargaining rights in the public sector—legislation later struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

In the Throne Speech, your government committed “to invest in important government services that provide a better quality of life for all Saskatchewan people.” Those are pretty words, but we need action, not words.

It’s time, Mr. Premier, for a new deal with SEIU-West health care providers.

The Throne Speech mentions a new plan for growth, but says little about planning for the effects of growth. If, as promised, Saskatchewan’s population grows to 1.4 million by 2030, its health care needs will grow as well. Do you have a plan to attract and retain the additional health providers needed to meet the growing health care needs of this larger population? Shouldn’t we begin working on that plan now?

The speech boasts of facilities built and professionals hired, but doesn’t even acknowledge the need for additional health care providers in order to run these facilities. It ignores a basic fact: health care in Saskatchewan, including long-term care and home care, depends on the hard work of tens of thousands of workers who are not physicians or registered nurses. The wages of these workers have not kept pace with the rising cost of living. The intransigent bargaining mandate directed to the employers by your Ministry of Health offers current and prospective health care providers no hope that this will change. It is a glaring example of the lack of institutional, financial, educational and emotional support currently faced by health care provider employees. They have consistently expressed to me their overwhelming frustration at being asked by your government to take zeroes, particular when Members of the Legislative Assembly (whose pay has increased by more than 50% since 2007) are not being asked to do the same.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority’s list of “hard to recruit” positions is growing. Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon--the province’s major tertiary care centre, and a critical resource for the adjacent Children’s Hospital—is reporting dangerous levels of overcrowding and understaffing. Many of our rural units report that the Employer simply cannot recruit Continuing Care Assistants to care for residents which lends to a fear of bed closures. How do you propose to recruit and retain health providers to work in understaffed facilities that are experiencing shockingly high rates of workplace injury and violence?

Premier Moe, if you are serious about providing a better quality of life for all Saskatchewan people, here is what you could do right away:

1. Re-evaluate the staffing levels in the health care system (acute, long-term care, homecare and community services) and look at investing more in front-line staff to provide the quality hands-on care needed;

2. For example, through your Health Minister, direct those bargaining on behalf of the Saskatchewan Health Authority that they are no longer bound by the mandate containing zeroes, and urge them to bring to the table a more innovative offer that better meets the needs of our members who are health care providers to ensure a timely address to ongoing retention and recruitment challenges.

I am ready to meet with you at any time to discuss how we can move forward together on these issues. You have indicated that you are Standing Up for Saskatchewan. Our members are ready for you to demonstrate your commitment.


Barbara Cape

President's Message: What does Labour Day mean to you?

This President's Message will be featured in the Star Phoenix and Leader Post as a special feature for Labour Day. 

What does Labour Day mean to you?

For some people, this is back to school time; for others, it’s an unofficial end to summer; but for me, I reflect on the work of our members and the people we serve. I also reflect on the history of our labour movement – where we were, where we are today and what we want to do in the future.

Lately, it’s been a little too easy to vilify unionized workers. I think that’s a cheap and easy target. And it needs to stop.

The benefits that unions have negotiated didn’t happen overnight but over decades. And we work to ensure that the benefits we have negotiated are shared with those who don’t yet have a union: weekends; sick leave; disability insurance; domestic violence leave; improvements to minimum wage… all of these things (and so many more) come from years of negotiations and lobbying by unions of every stripe. All working people put their maximum effort into their job and that needs to be recognized and respected. 

Today, all workplaces are changing. There are efficiency efforts; automation; downsizing; or ‘transformational change’ that affects everyone’s ability to bring home a pay cheque, support our families, or even simply to have meaning to our lives. Change is inevitable, but it needs to be thoughtful. Working people are not widgets but they are invested in their workplaces and loyal to their employers. We need to remember that they are a vital resource that is being overlooked in many cases; there needs to be consultation with front line staff who are the experts in their area and can provide valuable insight into improvements.

Trade unions must embrace new forms of technology and new forms of worker organizations to create space for the gig economy and a changing demographic. As a union leader, I believe that there is a way to celebrate and acknowledge our historical work, while embracing a more culturally diverse and technologically advanced workforce.

The future of our province and our labour movement is in the hands of working people. We have an opportunity to join together, have a voice in our workplaces, lobby for improved safety legislation and to improve the minimum wage for both young workers and the under employed. The principles of solidarity, understanding and being our brother’s and sister’s keeper need to be re-affirmed by all of us. These are core values of the labour movement, and the province of Saskatchewan.

I’m personally inviting you to join us in our efforts to improve the lives of working people and their families. Help lead the way to a more just and humane society that welcomes all people, champions dignity and respect, and allows everyone to have a voice on the job and in society.

We’re Stronger Together.

Happy Labour Day!

In solidarity,

Barb Cape 

President's Message: Response to the Minister of Finance

Recently, SEIU-West launched a campaign to raise the issue of understaffing in health care. We want to ensure that our patients, clients and residents have the necessary staff in all aspects of our system in order to live up to a promise of safe, professional world class health care that puts the patients first. But without the necessary staff in place, that promise can’t be kept. 

We are reaching out to the staff in health care and people who access to our health care system, in order to build a demand for investment in front line health care providers.  We are also reaching out to the general public in order to educate and motivate them to join us in this campaign. 

Recently, the Minister of Finance, Donna Harpauer began responding with quite possibly the most glaring example of missing the point! In her template replies, she attempts to justify the wages paid to elected MLA’s ($98,000+) as a base salary in comparison to wages paid to front line health care staff. So let’s take a look:

  • The MLA base wage is $98,395.00/year. They received a 3.5% cost of living increase last year, and a 2.3% cost of living adjustment again on April 1 of 2019. Minister of Finance missed the point because health care workers don’t have that as a base salary and don’t get automatic wage increases based on cost of living increases!
  • The Board of Internal Economy sets the increases. The Minister of Finance missed the point because this is essentially the MLA’s (and Speaker) establishing their own wage increases!
  • This amount doesn’t address the additional allowances received for everything from Legislative Secretary to committee Chair/co-chair to Speaker to Premier to…well, you get the idea! Health care workers don’t get those kinds of allowances for additional duties – extra duties just get rolled into our everyday work! The Minister of Finance missed the point that we are required to do more, with less…less wages, less staff, and less support!
  • This campaign is about ending understaffing and investing in front line health care staff. The Minister of Finance missed the point when she failed to address this as the core issue in the campaign and instead justified MLA salaries!

I get it, Minister Harpauer seems to believe that there is a false equivalency between comparing the critical work of front line health care workers with elected politicians. But the irony isn’t lost on any of us that there isn’t a shortage of people running for elected office while there is a clear shortage of staff in front line health care.

If you have received this reply from our Minister of Finance, we urge you to join the many others who have sent her a second message indicating that she missed the point: we need real answers, and real action.

We want to get down to the work of providing safe, professional health care services, so let’s focus on the issue of staffing, instead of justifying politician wages.  We’ve called for a roundtable to talk about staffing levels with government, the Saskatchewan Health Authority and the unions representing people. And we encourage you to share the safe staffing campaign with your neighbours, friends, family and colleagues…our system depends on it! Together, our province can make sure patients, residents, clients, and health care providers have access to a safe and quality health care system – together, we can put care first.

In solidarity,

Barbara Cape

Cape's Corner: Summer 2019

This summer, you’ll be seeing SEIU-West billboards prominently displayed across the province as we renew our focus on safety. Whether you work in the health, community-based organization (CBO), education, or within our private and allied sectors, we have heard firsthand too many of our members are trying to get the job done with too few staff.

At our May Convention, themed Together Strong Together Safe, delegates were able to talk about the need for safer workplaces. We urged members and guests to provide advice about what to do when faced with an unsafe work environment. Moving forward, we have introduced a member education session about occupational health and safety. There is a clear demand: we all want to improve safety for our patients, clients, residents, and students.

These billboards connect readily with the CBO campaign where we join with other unions (SGEU and CUPE) to highlight the need for stable and predictable multi-year funding in this sector. This is the purpose of the 'Sask People Who Care' campaign which urges members of the general public to sign an online petition in recognition of the valuable work done in this sector for residents and clients who are in most need. We encourage every one of our members to collect signatures on the paper petition over the summer and return them (with original signatures) to one of our offices in September so they can be submitted in the fall sitting of the Legislature.

Our Provincial Contract Action Team (ProCAT) will be coming out to facilities across the province to promote our on-line and billboard campaign. We ask SEIU-West health care providers to share the message 'Be Fair to Those Who Care' and engage the general public to support health care providers. As part of creating a safe health care system, the rates of pay must keep up with the cost of living – so that we can retain and recruit health care providers. Safe staffing is essential to keeping our patients, clients and residents safe.

Our members who work in the education sector have been faced with cuts to staffing in the classrooms and throughout the school system. Over the past few years, our provincial government has whipsawed the funding for this sector… but ultimately, leaving our schools and students in a deficit. Student enrollment continues to grow, but the staffing needed for kids who are new Canadians or who have special learning needs or need some extra support has stayed static or been reduced in school systems across the province. We believe that funding needs to be fully restored and further supplemented to create a safe, quality learning environment for everyone.

To amplify this message, we need your help. For the remaining months of the year, we are asking our members to tell us – in a short video (less than 10 seconds) –what you would do to make your workplace safer. Our goal is to raise awareness about the need for safety in Saskatchewan workplaces where injuries are among the highest in this country, and at the same time provide some solutions from the experts in the workplace – our members. If you are interested in being a part of this campaign, email [email protected]

It’s really quite simple – end understaffing.

Cape's Corner Spring 2019

Written by President Barb Cape

Workplace safety has always been paramount within SEIU-West, regardless of whether you work in education, municipalities, retirement homes, community based organizations or health care. Coming home from work safe is one of the things that drives the work and the campaigns that we do as a union. But what if going home isn’t safe? What if the dangerous conditions aren’t at work,
but are present at home?

Domestic violence IS a union issue…because it doesn’t just stay at home. It follows you mentally, emotionally, physically, and everywhere. It’s not only the pain, exhaustion, or fear, but the abuser can also stalk, intimidate, and threaten the safety of the workplace. An abuser’s presence is a part of the personal and working life of our members who are experiencing domestic violence.

Let’s not kid ourselves, there is stigma attached to domestic violence. And that is simply wrong; we don’t know what others are experiencing or what their world is like, and we know domestic violence rates are high in Saskatchewan. So when we suspect domestic violence, our job as union members should be to support our co-worker; provide a safe person to talk to; and assist in finding help or resources. Our questions shouldn’t be ‘why didn’t they leave?' it should be ‘what can I do to help?’

Domestic violence has gained more awareness in recent years because we need to talk about this issue; there is no hiding from it. It is wrong, unacceptable, and we need to work together to put an end to it. Abusers rely on silence and stigma in order to keep control and continue their behavior; as a union, it is our duty to support our members at work, at home and in the community.

To that end, we provide a two-day Domestic Violence Workshop to ensure our members in the workplace have the knowledge and skills to be an ally and support to survivors; our Young Worker Committee has lobbied the provincial government to provide paid leave for survivors of Domestic Violence; and we have a suggested protocol for what happens when this is disclosed to the employer, including the development of a safety plan for the member, providing professional resources, and tools for the member to take control of the situation.

If you are looking for help or resources, please call the Member Resource Center Centre (MRC) 1-888-999-7348 ext. 2298 who will work to assist. Remember, we’re not only stronger together, but safer as well.

Cape's Corner: Winter 2018

Communication… it’s key to explaining yourself; being responsible for your actions; and working to do better for everyone. Whether you are a shop steward, the Premier of a province, or a union President, we all have a responsibility to communicate as effectively as possible. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with our members, shop stewards, staff, and even our Minister of Health and the message that keeps rising to the top is how we need to communicate better.

Our members have been earnest in their effort to communicate with their Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) about concerns with funding in the education sector; short staffing in the health care sector; a lack of accountability in the Community-Based Organization (CBO) sector… and always, bargaining! The public deserves quality services that their taxes pay for. And the people who provide those services deserve a decent wage… there’s nothing controversial about that.

But I don’t think that the politicians have been very forthright or honest in their responses. Recently, our Minister of Health said publicly – in the news – that funding in long-term care has been increased by 40%... since when?! Since the 1980’s? Let’s be frank, we haven’t felt a real increase in funding for public sector services for a very long time. It’s actually quite demoralizing that our Minister of Health makes this kind of public statement when those who provide hands-on care report unsafe staffing levels in long-term care on a chronic basis. Previously, our Minister of Finance has reported to media that the 3.5% cuts were off the bargaining table for all public sector workers… but who else did she tell?! Because there are plenty of bargaining tables where the cuts are
still a living proposal!

We have called for public audits in the CBO sector to ensure that the funding is actually reaching the front line for staff and clients… but the Minister of Social Services didn’t even respond… all we have heard are crickets! For a government that keeps talking about consulting, transparency, and accountability, it’s interesting that they have such a checkered record.

We should all be accountable – not just at election times. And we need to recognize that the key to building our workplace, our union, and our province is creating a space where more people can be heard; where we can answer questions with honesty, not political spin; and where we can make sure that we are actually lifting up the people of this province… not picking winners and losers.

Sometimes we’re moving so fast that we don’t take the time to communicate – to explain – to consult – to actively listen – effectively... and it’s frustrating! So maybe, the first step in changing our communications is to start telling the truth… we can do better.

President’s Message: December 13 SAHO Bargaining Telephone Town Hall Follow Up No.1

In this last week before Christmas, I wanted to take the time to provide an update on our virtual townhall meeting held last week regarding SAHO bargaining. Thanks to everyone who made the time to participate in our call…the response from our members was overwhelming in terms of numbers on the call and questions submitted.

Your SEIU-West SAHO bargaining committee wanted to reach out to provide an update to our members on the state of bargaining.  We wanted to get your direction on what is left at the table to negotiate…a general wage increase. 

During our townhall, myself and Russ Doell, Deputy Director of Contract Bargaining and Enforcement, provided a high level overview of how bargaining has evolved: from the beginning when the government of Sask set out their mandate of a 3.5% reduction which took the form of things like:

  • A 1% wage reduction and zero increases for the whole contract;
  • The creation of two lower pay bands;
  • Eliminating professional fees, the vehicle allowance and time in lieu banks;
  • Reducing shift and weekend premiums and overtime rates; and
  • An employer contribution holiday on our extended health plan & having employees co-pay for their benefits and a cap on funding the plan;

Our membership has provided the bargaining committee with a mandate: NO cuts/NO rollbacks/Treat Us With Respect/Pay Us What We’re Worth! And members have been extremely active in contacting MLA’s about how awful this proposal was; each of you talked about the great work you do in the health care system; how you contribute to your workplace, your family and community; you signed petitions and postcards; you shared the economic facts that the government proposals presented for you; you came to rallies and your support has moved the government off of their proposals. Our members have been active participants at the bargaining table by doing all this work.

Because of this support, we’ve been able to make some modest improvements at the table:

  • Stronger language to deal with workload issues;
  • JJE language to update and improve the pay equity plan;
  • We’re working on a LOU to deal with the transition issues with the creation of the Sask Health Authority;
  • We’ve negotiated recruitment and retention language to address the lack of staff in our workplaces;
  • We’ve got agreement to interpersonal violence leave language;
  • Improvements to the effective dates of professional fees – reflecting those fees established as of April 1, 2017;
  • We’ve protected the rates that the employer contributes to our extended health plan;
  • And we’ve finally reached an agreement to work on a joint trusteeship of our extended health plan & benefits.
    • This is new and was a huge point of dispute between the parties. We weren’t going to agree to our members paying for the increased costs to the plan. And we’re happy to share this update with all of you.
  • We have also been able to get the employer to withdraw concessions like:
    • Reduction in shift/weekend premiums and overtime rates;
    • The elimination of professional fees, vehicle allowance and time in lieu banks; and
    • The creation of the two lower pay bands.

Your bargaining committee is fully aware that the cost of living in this province continues to go up, and our wages don’t meet that demand. 

SAHO has proposed a similar wage increase that was offered to SGEU government employees – if you’ll recall, this was resoundingly turned down.  The coalition of health care unions (SEIU-West/CUPE/SGEU) has put forward a marginally higher proposal that includes a signing bonus.

During the virtual townhall, we asked three poll questions, poll question #1: outlined the employers wage proposal versus the unions wage proposal.

Results significantly favoured the union’s position.

Poll question #2: asked about preferred priority between the rising cost of living versus the provincial financial picture.

Results indicated that the bargaining committee should prioritize the rising costs of living over provincial finances.

Poll question #3: asked whether members would support a five year collective agreement with enhanced monetary proposal in the fifth year.

Results were that members would accept a five year deal but much less enthusiastic than the two previous poll questions.  

For our membership questions, we received over a large number of questions specific to this update and the SAHO collective agreement process.  Over this week, I will do my best to answer all of them. 

#1: Does everyone get the lump sum payment or is it prorated somehow? – Russ, unknown location.

In the proposal, as the coalition has put it forward, everyone would get the lump sum payment.

#2: Did SEIU consider dropping STD (short term disability) to free up some money? – Denise, Saskatoon.

No, we didn’t think about scaling back our STD benefit to increase the amount of money available. Partly because the STD benefit is utilized by a great number of members, but also, because we weren’t willing to give up a benefit that is already well established, in order to get a much needed wage increase.

#3: Regarding the signing bonus and the back pay, can that be on a separate cheque for tax reasons? – Cindylee, Saskatoon.

We would most definitely be requesting that. There is some question about whether or not there really are tax implications, but regardless, our members like seeing the hard numbers to confirm that they were paid correctly.

#4: Are there any improvements to benefits that would make me feel better about a minimal wage increase? – Julie, unknown location.

We have negotiated some modest improvements (as itemized above); but there is much in our collective agreement that would remain the same as it currently stands. In terms of extended health benefits, that is separate from this bargaining table, but we’ve been able to enhance a number of procedures and items covered under the extended health and enhanced dental plan over the last year.

#5: Has there been any view to enhance bereavement to include aunts and uncles? – Karen, Saskatoon.

That was in our initial proposal package, but our bargaining committee made the decision to withdraw this proposal and focus on getting rid of the wage rollbacks and the -3.5% as a priority from our membership.

#6: Will the 4 year contract start when we sign or from when the last contract ended? Madeline, Saskatoon.

Our contract would be effective April 1, 2017 – the day after our last contract expired.

#7: LPN’s want to know if there is anything for licensing fees being paid directly by the employer, like SUN gets? – Karen, Saskatoon.

No there isn’t, Karen. The employer has adamantly refused to agree to this although we’ve put forward this proposal before and we’ll continue to do so.

#8: What year are we in for not having a contract? – James, Saskatoon.

Our collective agreement expired on March 31, 2017. As of today, we are 1 ½ years without a contract.

#9: This proposal does nothing for people about to retire, what’s in it for us? – Kelly, Wilkie.

That’s a good question…and I guess it really depends on each individual’s perspective. On the general wage increase, the any years with a 0% increase will not have any positive affect on your pension.  Your SHEPP pension is based on your best 4 years of service. But, the other piece around bargaining that we need to remember is that it’s not just for the ‘right now’ improvements, but the gains that we make or the language that we protect – for the next round of bargaining and the members (staff) who come after us.

#10: You say they cleared the boards with the new SHA. I have not seen one job loss for out of scope in Swift Current, only a change of job titles. Have you noticed this? – Jenn, unknown location.

There are 2 different pieces here: the 12 health region boards were disbanded – there is only one health authority board in place now…and the government has indicated that this will save millions of dollars (stay tuned!).

With the creation of senior vice-presidents; executive directors and directors and out of scope admin positions, I see a lot of management staff simply changing their titles …but I don’t know how that is working in the out of scope realm and don’t think I should guess on that one!

#11: With the lump sum payment, are they even going to come up to inflation as it goes up…are there any more increases to benefits? – Sheila, Saskatoon.

This essentially is a status quo collective agreement; we focused our fight in bargaining this round on beating back the -3.5% cuts. If you are wondering about the improvements, they are set out at the beginning of this update, but you can also take a look at our bargaining updates since last year to see how things have evolved over the past 18 months.

We’ve seen extended health benefits increase over the last couple of years.

#12: Will we catch up with the cost of living with the proposal that the coalition has proposed? – Colette, Saskatoon.

The last numbers about the cost of living that I saw were the short answer is no, what has been proposed wouldn’t meet the cost of living. The longer answer is more along the lines of what are we able to achieve in this current economic and political climate in the province?

I will post more questions and answers throughout the rest of this week.  Again, your union thanks you for your support and your engagement.  I said it repeatedly on the call, but bargaining isn’t a spectator sport…we are all in this together and we need you to talk to your MLA’s. Phone/email or better yet, visit them – even if you’ve done it already – we need them to feel the pressure of the message that healthcare workers will not accept cuts/rollbacks; we wanted to be treated with respect and paid what we’re worth!

In Solidarity, on behalf of the SEIU-West SAHO bargaining committee,

Barbara Cape, President

For a PDF of this President's Message, click here.

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