On July 29 and 30, SEIU-West members gathered for a virtual townhall to get an update from President Barb Cape and Charlene Sarafin (July 29) and Janice Platzke (July 30). This was an update on the current state of bargaining with the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO) and the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) a chance for members to ask questions and sharing the plan for a Day of Action/Protest on August 12.

At the last virtual townhall on May 28, 2020 (Afternoon session, Evening Session, and Unanswered Questions), we had our chief negotiator, Bob Laurie, talk about the steps under The Saskatchewan Employment Act (SEA) to reach impasse – meaning that there’s no room to move or negotiate – and then having a mediator appointed by the Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety. That mediator has up to 60 days to reach an agreement between the parties. If there is no agreement, the mediator sends a report on the dispute to the Minister. There is a seven day cooling off period, if an essential services agreement is in place. Then we would be able to issue 48 hour notice of job action.

We’ve also talked with our members about the process for negotiating essential services and having an essential service agreement in place prior to taking job action.

Members have been very vocal about their anger at being without a collective agreement for over three years; there’s a lot of frustration towards the SHA and SAHO for not putting forward a fair offer. Some members, but not nearly enough, have written to the Premier, the Ministers of Health and their MLA’s to talk about their frustration with the government not putting additional money towards a collective agreement. And through all of this is the added anxiety, stress and frustration in the midst of the COVID -19 pandemic. 

Your SEIU-West bargaining committee absolutely understands why members are feeling devalued by this long unbearable process we call bargaining. We are angry too. We all know that the government mandate is what is getting in the way of us getting a fair collective agreement, yet when we reach out to our MLA, the Minister of Health or the Premier – they say they don’t want to interfere. Our employer, the SHA, has done nothing to assist our cause… as long as they keep getting their raises, they seem content. We absolutely need the support of public and we need everyone in our community to understand that we are ready to take action.

This is election season, so we want the elected politicians to not only read your letters, but to see you (wearing a mask of course) standing up loud and proud to demand a better offer at the bargaining table. Together we need to demand the respect and recognition that we all deserve. To demand to be seen as a valued member of the health care team responsible for bending the curve of the COVID pandemic.

Questions and Answers from the July 29, 2020 Virtual Town Hall (VTH) that took place at 7:00 pm

Q: Brent - Does the government bring up that CUPE has settled why haven't we? Since there is a clause to receive whatever one union gets we should do it or take job action.

In our correspondence to the Gov’t of Saskatchewan asking them to step in and put more money on the table, the ratification by both CUPE and SGEU health care workers has been noted. 

The LOU that sets out a ‘me too’ (so that if other unions get something else, we would also get it) was in the tentative agreement that was rejected by our members.

We are working through the process in the Saskatchewan Employment Act (SEA) requesting a special mediator. These are required steps for us to take prior to taking any sort of job action.

Q: Fay: Is the media invited to this protest that is happening?

We will indeed be sending out a media release and inviting them to the protest action.

Q: Connie - there 21 000 people waiting for surgery. The government has really messed this up. There are a lot of members struggling. I don't understand why we can't get a fair wage they need to value us. And thank you to all the staff at SEIU West.

We couldn’t agree with you more, Connie! We are over 1200 days without a collective agreement and why the Gov’t of Saskatchewan cannot understand the need to pay health care workers fairly is puzzling – especially when they have no problem paying themselves fairly!

Thanks to the thousands of frontline health care workers, we’ve been able to bend the infection rate for COVID-19 in Saskatchewan. Every single member deserves recognition and thanks!

Q: Roger - We've been offered the same as the other unions what are WE going for? What do we consider acceptable?

We received direction from our members that the tentative agreement that was voted on in spring 2019 didn’t have enough for us to vote in favour… members wanted ‘more’.  So we are trying to negotiate more.  Obviously, we can’t talk specific numbers on a virtual town hall, but we are trying to bring back an enhanced package that members can consider.

Q: Myrna - (Question about date of hire vs hours based seniority) At that time it said it doesn't make any difference if we go with date of hire seniority but I see it would make a BIG difference. Against it.

Thanks for providing this feedback Myrna.  This has been our seniority process for decades: for every hour you work, you receive recognition of seniority.

Q: Kimberley - why is it okay that the government has given increases to all those unable to work, gave themselves increases, but not us and we are the essential ones keeping everyone alive.  Why aren't we worth hazard pay even?

The short answer is that it’s not ok that the politicians gave themselves increases that reflect the cost of living – but not to health care workers who show up, despite incredible anxiety and concern about the impact of COVID-19. 

We believe that ALL health care workers should get recognition pay, but our government appears to be picking a narrow band of those who are eligible.  The wage supplement program doesn’t recognize the valuable work and the interconnectedness of the whole health care system.  Members and their family and friends can go to www.skhealthproviders.ca to sign onto our petition to make this happen.

Q: Shelagh - Who wants this change in how seniority works? Whose idea was it? Seems like a mess!!

You’re right – for SEIU-West members it would be messy and create a lot of confusion moving from one seniority system to another. This was SAHO’s proposal to SEIU-West.

Q: Colleen - How do we go about getting a meeting with our MLA if we want to talk to them directly? Does PA&E have a process we can use?

Our Political Action and Education department can help you find out who your Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) is by contacting us at [email protected] and giving us your postal code. We can also give you their email and office phone numbers.  We can provide advice and suggestions about how to engage with your MLA and how to ask questions that will get answers.

Q: Caroline - What if we did a form letter for everyone to sign and send in.

We have template letters that you can use to send your own letter to your MLA. Contact us at [email protected] for more information.

Q: Lee-Anne - Wondering if there will be a protest in Swift Current?

After the kickoff event in Saskatoon, we are currently organizing information protests across the province to make sure that the Government sees that the public supports us in Swift Current, in Moose Jaw, Rosetown, in Biggar, in Humboldt and all across this province where SEIU-West members provide quality health care! We’ll be posting the details on our website once the events are set up.

Q: Jason - Why are other provinces where employees are essential  get a more money per hour because they are essential

I’ve questioned that myself, Jason.  In Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, BC, the governments’ have recognized the sacrifices of frontline health care workers by providing pandemic or recognition pay.  These are not permanent increases and will expire.  But the only answer I can think of is that our government wants to get away without putting that extra recognition towards our health care workers. And that is just completely wrong!

Q: Shelley: You say we have to go thru different hoops for taking job action... what are those things we need to do and how long will it take? And will the protests include Extendicare?

We welcome our Extendicare members to join us at any of the sites in Saskatoon.  I know you’ve been waiting just as long as those members in the SHA and this is an opportunity for our members to join together in solidarity.

The ‘hoops’ set out in the SEA include the request we have made to the Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, Don Morgan, for a special mediator to assist the parties in getting a tentative agreement. We have made the request and are providing background and information to Ministry staff to support that request. We expect to hear back next week. As well, we are reviewing the information we’ve received from our members about their jobs and the essential duties they do in order to have evidence for essential service negotiations.

Q: Sheila - If the mediator recommends that we go back to the table can demand that SAHO respect us and they are not allowed to hang up and leave the meeting?

We should always expect that our members be treated with respect – by SAHO, the Government of Saskatchewan, anyone.  And there will likely be rules to returning to any table in order to keep the focus on dealing with the outstanding issues.

Q: Barbara - I would like to know who by name is on the bargaining committee.

The names of every bargaining committee member is at the end of every bargaining update that we have sent out for the last three years. You can find that on the website under the SAHO bargaining updates.

Q: Lorraine - I work two jobs and one was taken away and I need to know when that will be fixed so I get that income back? (Referring to cohorting). Why are we wearing one PPE mask for an entire shift?

We don’t know when the issue of cohorting will end.  We’ve been raising this issue of members losing pay because they have been cohorted since May.  I have raised this concern on our daily briefing calls with the SHA and the Ministry of Health; in letters to the Premier and to the Prime Minister.  We will continue to identify the flaws with cohorting and the impact on our members’ ability to pay their bills.

You should be changing your PPE as identified in the masking/PPE bulletins that are on the Saskatchewan.ca/covid19 page.  Check those instructions out and if you are having issues, contact the Member Resource Center so we can follow up directly with you and potentially with your employer.  We have also been raising PPE concerns with the SHA’s Safety Partnership Advisory Group.

Q: Russell - they are discussing sending emails to the ministers wouldn’t it be more effective if 12 000 or so daily letter mail went to the legislature (believes it is free to mail there)?

Regular mail through Canada post is free to the Parliament of Canada, but you need to provide a stamp to send provincially to our MLA’s and government ministers.

Charlene who was the guest on our July 29 7pm virtual town hall put forward the idea that you should send the ministers an email, and resend it every single day until you get a satisfactory reply.

We’ve had some members send emails to the Government of Saskatchewan, but not nearly enough have done so…we need ALL members to take that time to reach out and explain what they do to the provincial politicians and why we need a fair collective agreement.

Q: Rick - 'Do you know how much of a pay increase the political leaders have received?

In 2018 they received 3.5%; in 2019 they received 2.3%; and in 2020 they saw a 1.7% increase.

Q: Toni - How will we be able to change the chronic and sometimes dangerously low staffing levels?

SEIU-West has launched a campaign to end understaffing.  We have been asking members to fill out workload tracking forms to provide us with the details and we raise these within the SHA, lobby government and raise this with the public so that we can shine a light on this systemic issue. We have a proposal at the bargaining table for a process to address workload issues.  But we need that evidence in order to get these concerns on the table

We also need to stop ourselves from running to provide care and services.  I know that it’s hard and against the work ethic that we embrace, but if we continue to get all the work done when we’re short-staffed, there’s nothing that forces the employer to post and fill positions. When we are short, we need to stop and say to our manager “We are short today. What would you like me to set aside so I can complete my work safely”.

Also there should be working short guidelines on your unit or department that provide you with direction on what to do when working short.  We need to ask for these and follow them!

Q: Sheri - Since the law prevents us from walking out as essential services what bargaining power do we really have?

The law does NOT prevent us from walking out as essential services – but we need to negotiate what those essential duties of each classification are first. 

The bargaining power we have is follow the law around requesting a special mediator, communicating with the Minister of Labour, negotiate an essential service agreement and keep public opinion on our side.

Q: Rita - when is the last time we had a pay increase? It’s been so long I can't remember.

No kidding! The last general wage increase was April 1, 2016.

Q: Judy - will we be inviting other labor unions in Saskatoon to parties in this protest rally?

We have sent invitations to unions in Saskatoon and to all affiliate unions throughout the province through our Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL).

Q: Sarah - 'Did we not give you a strike mandate last year. Why not listen to what we want instead of trying to muddle in the election and beat up the Sask Party. Is there a hidden agenda?'

Our members gave us a job action/strike mandate and we are working through the legal processes to make that happen.  The priority is to get a collective agreement and so when the employer puts forward an offer, we are required to consider it.

I’m not sure what you mean by hidden agenda, but we’ve been working towards this impasse for months. The SHA and SAHO do not have the power or authority to negotiate an improved compensation package UNLESS the Government of Saskatchewan/Ministry of Health give the OK.  Don’t ever kid yourself that the Employers in health care negotiations are not told what to do by the government.  The Government of Saskatchewan has the power to put more money towards the bargaining table – they can do it now!

I don’t care what people’s political stripe is, but they need to recognize that balancing budgets on the backs of health care workers is not on.

Q: Curtis - What is the hourly wage difference for the same job titles in the other unions compared to ours and if they are different should we ask for the matching wages as the other unions if they are higher than ours?

We are in a joint job evaluation plan with CUPE and SGEU. As health care providers, our classifications are paid at the same pay rates as those two unions.

Where there is another union with same/similar classifications, we bring those issues to the Joint Job Evaluation (JJE) maintenance committee so that we can make sure that jobs are evaluated fairly and appropriately.

What is being done that all staff in Saskatchewan get COVID wage supplement as government stated on June 6.

We have started a joint petition to the Government of Saskatchewan so that ALL health care workers will get this wage supplement without the restrictive criteria. Unfortunately, the government has only applied it to a very narrow group of members and we’ve had to fight like hell to get them to understand the interconnected nature of our work in the Saskatchewan health care system.  Our efforts have persuaded the government to broaden the qualifying criteria for the supplement, but the changes are not nearly enough!

We are asking members, their family, and friends to go to www.skhealthproviders.ca and sign the petition that will go to government to get this wage supplement applied to ALL health care staff.

Q: Anne - Will CUPE employees benefit from our settled contract when and if we do get a new contract?

The short answer is ‘quite likely’. If we are able to fight for and win monetary improvements, we would likely see that applied to SGEU and CUPE health care providers.

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