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.

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

Questions and Answers from the July 30, 2020 Virtual Town Hall (VTH) that took place at 2:00 pm

Q: Barry - Why don't we just go to the media with all this stuff and say hey look at how they are putting us at risk and not helping us?

Well, Barry, we’ve been doing this consistently in radio, print, TV and social media. We’ve been talking about member concerns related to healthcare in every forum that we can find. The public has responded – but not nearly with the same vigor as they responded to the education reopen plan. And that’s the kind of energy we need to see.

Q: Kim - what is happening with COVID19 funding that the PM said he was going to give to front line workers who works with seniors?

Good question! The federal government provided $3billion to the provinces to create a temporary wage supplement for low-income essential workers. The provinces were to set criteria and administer the program.

Our province set the criteria at earning of no more than $24/hr and $2500/month from all sources. They further shuffled the criteria as applying to only special care home employees and then expanded it to include employees at integrated facilities and personal care homes.

We believe that ALL healthcare workers should get this supplement. Our work is integrated between homecare, acute and long term care. We are on the frontline of this pandemic and doing a damn good job in keeping the infection rates low. You can sign the petition that we’ve developed with CUPE and SGEU at www.skhealthproviders.ca

Q: Karen - Can we strike as essential service workers and what does this look like if we can?

The short answer is yes – but the longer answer is a bit more involved (isn’t it always?). We are essential workers for the purposes of the pandemic. But the essential service legislation looks quite a bit different because it talks about the ‘essential duties’ of our jobs.

So we would have to negotiate an essential services agreement to determine what are the essential duties that must be maintained during a job action. The employer would need to consider using volunteers, out of scope and those in other unions to perform essential duties. The provisions of the essential services agreement would be applied to the Employers facilities and operations

A strike or job action would look incredibly different than what we might have imagined previously. Members would be ‘scheduled’ by the union to do those essential duties and then come back out to the picket line. This would likely be done on a rotational basis.

Q: Emily-Kay - There are gaps in the health care system where money disappears it would seem to me that the union would do better to find those gaps and fix them rather than blanketly asking for more money all the time. So what are you doing to fix those?

I can tell you that if the SHA gave us the opportunity to look at the books, we would most certainly work to identify and fix those gaps. But that’s the role of the SHA and the Government of Saskatchewan. Our role as a union is to represent our members. Our members, through meetings, polls, bargaining surveys and via a large bargaining conference, set out what the priorities were for bargaining and we try our best to achieve those priorities.

Q: Shannon - They are talking about the wage supplement for nursing in acute and LTC..does this include all classifications

The Temporary wage Supplement program applies to all essential staff working in personal care homes, special care homes and integrated facilities. You can find the particulars on our website under the COVID-19 information page.

Q: Carol - Will retirees be eligible for retro pay if we EVER EVER get a contract signed?

We negotiate retro for those who have retired in our agreement.

Q: Kevin - SEIU West has helped other members who have been on strike... are we going to be asking for their help in this?

Absolutely! In setting up the Day of Action on August 12, we reached out to the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, and all the union affiliates in the Saskatoon area.

Q: Donna - Why can't we have a clause in our contract that if there is a cost of living increase we would automatically get that increase? I'm furious with temp wage supplement questions and how it said… people are paid well

I agree with your anger. Working in healthcare is dangerous and physically/emotionally/mentally demanding. I believe that our members work in these situations every day and the intensity, stress and anxiety has only increased with the pandemic. What frustrates me is that the government doesn’t understand this!

Getting a cost of living allowance (COLA) negotiated into an agreement is very difficult because it’s an unpredictable cost that governments and health regions cannot budget for. For union members it is challenging because there is a potential for the cost of living to go below 1%. I agree that it would be nice, because the cost of living has been gradually rising over the last few years.

However, a COLA clause only kicks in AFTER the cost of everything has increased and members have paid the increased costs. There is no retro paid out under a COLA clause.

Q: Juanita - Why is it that the agreement that CUPE an SGEU signed isn't good for us. Why don't we accept that agreement… I don't know that during COVID is the right time.

The members voted to reject the tentative agreement in Spring of 2019. So I imagine there were a lot of individual reasons. The bargaining committee didn’t make a recommendation on whether to accept or reject – we left it up to our members. What we heard was a lot of frustration with the 0% for 2yrs at the front end of the agreement; that it was a question of respect for the work that health care workers do.

We need to remember that we haven’t just been bargaining and fighting for a fair collective agreement during COVID. We’ve been at the table since early 2017! And there is no ‘good’ time for this to be occurring, but when I look at the work that healthcare workers do, the incredible pressure and stress inherent in your jobs, I believe that you are worth a fair collective agreement. And we’re going to do our best to get something for members to vote on.

Q: Amber - When negotiating a the new contract will reimbursement for license costs be included for example pharmacy tech license costs $1100 we currently get $200.

We have included the reimbursement for licensing fees in this round of bargaining. I don’t know that we’ll be able to achieve the level of reimbursement that you are looking for. This issue has always been present for all of our regulated members who pay licensing fees, but for the Pharmacy Techs, this has been an especially timely issue because the fees are new and incredibly high.

Q: Scott - how is it fair that the groups who get their license’s paid for every year. To me that is like a bonus for them. I get nothing. Just curious if anyone has ever asked that.

SEIU-West sees this as fair because members who are in regulated professions are required to pay to get a license every year to do their work for the employer. The Employer benefits from that skill and knowledge, so we believe that it’s fair for them to reimburse members for those licensing fees. It’s not a bonus because it’s a legislated requirement in order to do their particular roles. If you don’t have to pay a licensing fee, then you aren’t out of pocket.

Thanks to all the members who attended our Virtual Town hall and asked great questions! For all the members who came out on August 12 for the Day of Action in Saskatoon – you were incredible!

Keep an eye open for the upcoming actions in Biggar, Unity, Craik, Davidson and Moose Jaw!

In solidarity, on behalf of the SEIU-West/SAHO Bargaining Committee,

Barbara Cape
President, SEIU-West




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