President’s message on Virtual Town Hall

Thanks again to all of you who joined us for one or both of the Virtual Town Halls on April 9 at 2:00-3:00 pm and 7:00-8:00 pm . I wanted to share our answers to some of the questions we received, including some questions we didn't have time to respond to. 

If you submitted a question and don't see it below, it was probably about how to interpret or enforce a specific provision of the current collective agreement, as opposed to a question about the tentative agreement. If you have any questions you don't see answered here, please don’t hesitate to contact the Member Resource Centre (MRC) at 1-888-999-7348 Ext 2298. They can provide you with direction.

1. Our motto has been ‘treat us with respect’. Has it been proposed to management to stop their bonuses and put the money in the hands of front-line workers? – Sheila.

We have made the connection at the bargaining table with what MLA’s are paid; with the severance packages that have been paid out to departing senior leadership of the former RHA’s; and we’ve talked about the incentive program that has been used for saving money from the health authority budgets.  While SAHO has acknowledged these things, they haven’t made the same connection we have as it relates to front line people I’ve heard comments from government in the past that we need to pay high salaries in order to recruit the best and brightest…well Sheila, I believe that we need to retain and recruit the best and brightest on the front line as well!

2. If we were to go on strike, would vacation days be denied? – Kerry.

Every strike or job action is different.  When we’ve had strikes in other sectors, the vacation time that was previously booked is honoured by the employer.  However, I think that we would need to confirm that in the event that we get to that point

3. Would like more information on the recruitment and retention language that Bob was talking about – Heather.

We’ve negotiated a letter of understanding (LOU) about recruitment and retention that compels both the union and the employer to review current challenges regarding recruitment and retention…so for instance, let’s take a look at the hard to recruit list that the former RHA’s developed. We can consider the facility, the community, the service/agency or geographic area that makes it challenging to recruit/retain people. We will look at any policies or collective agreement language that may be creating a barrier to recruitment and retention and then collectively come up with solutions.

4. What did the education support unit do to get 7%? Can we find out and work on the same? – Nancy.

Well, in the last round of bargaining, our members at South East Cornerstone Public School Division were on strike for 3 weeks.  And their past settlement included some zeroes.  In this round, there was a different tone at the table from both the SEIU-West and employer bargaining committee.  We’ve put forward evidence and a collaborative way of bargaining with SAHO, but with the interference from the Government of Saskatchewan, it has been damn difficult to move them beyond a desire to cut/rollback…that was their mandate! In contrast, the SECPSD seemed to simply ignore the Government of Saskatchewan mandate and freely bargain a collective agreement.

5. If the new contract is not ratified and we proceed to a strike, how long and how much do non-essential service employees get paid? – Debra.

I think we need to focus on one strategy at a time, and right now, we need to focus on getting to the polls to vote on this collective agreement on either April 11 or April 16.  However, it depends on what happens with any sort of job action, so it’s a bit hard to answer your question about ‘how long’.  As to how much, strike pay is crappy – there’s no way to sugar coat that. Because people don’t go on strike for the strike pay.  For SEIU-West, our current strike manual sets out strike pay starting at $100/week.  Keep in mind that this would potentially be applied to 11,000 members.

6. How often will mileage rates be reviewed for homecare workers? – Kimberly.

This language hasn’t changed in the tentative agreement. Mileage rates are reviewed on a quarterly basis. In fact the review just happened.

7. Being that minimum wage goes up at least once a year, usually in October, why is this increase not reflected in our wage? – Patricia.

For those of you keeping score, our Saskatchewan minimum wage is a paltry $11.06…the lowest in Canada.  It was increased by ten cents – that’s just over 1% increase.  It think we need to separate these two things – because the minimum wage increase is set by government, and we are working to negotiate something better for our members.  Beyond that, we need to recognize that everyone deserves a LIVING WAGE.

8. Why would the employer think we should get less than the cost of living? Everything has gone up and up – Wendy.

I think the simplest answer is because they are trying to save money. And they believe that members will simply accept this offer. And depending on how you feel about that, then you must vote accordingly.

9. Is there something the union can do about violence in the workplace, specifically from residents? The attitude towards it seems to be: “This is how it is.” – Dorothy.

The evidence and statistics are clear: according to the WCB, the health care sector is #1 in violence and assault-related injuries.  But that should not be ‘how it is’.  I believe that part of the problem is woefully inadequate front-line staffing levels: we don’t have enough hands to do the job.  The language that we have negotiated on workload gets us on the path towards addressing this issue.  Where we can show that workload issues are safety related, then there is a clear process to report this and get resolutions from the employer.  But we need to report these things! Too often, we are so frustrated and resigned to this as part of our jobs that we don’t report…this has to change!

10. I want to thank Bob for bringing up the election this fall. Does he believe if this TA is rejected, would it pressure the employer to meet our demands faster? –Ashley.

I don’t know that it would make this process any faster…the steps that we would have to take in the event of an essential service agreement are set out in The Saskatchewan Employment Act (SEA), regardless of the political stripe of the government.  But if members want to add pressure to have government act…we need to be getting more vocal and engaged with calling/emailing and visiting our MLAs to raise the awareness of the work that each of us do.

11. Can you talk more about the better-thans and what the ’me too’ clause means? –Crystal.

With the me-too clause, we have negotiated language that states if SUN, HSAS, or SGEU Cancer Agency negotiate improved compensation over what we have negotiated, that improvement will be provided to SEIU-West with the same effective date. For instance if SUN negotiates a $250 lump sum payment for April 1, 2018- March 31, 2019 – we would get the same thing. We’ve set out some examples in the tentative agreement to provide clarity.

12. Please clarify: isn’t the reason we get double time because the Employer should be penalized for not having enough staff to cover shifts? Why would they make it a penalty on the workers? –Janet.

Well, the simple answer, Janet, is that they are trying to cut costs.  And they were hoping that we would accept this.  Remember, this is the proposed language that we’ve been able to get the Employer to drop.

13. What happened to the $700 signing bonus? –Terri.

This was what the unions proposed to the Employer – and they rejected that idea. It was actually $750 signing bonus.  There is absolutely no appetite, in any of the public sector tables that I’ve seen, to have any sort of compensation in those first two years of an agreement.

14. Outside of anything monetary, what does our bargaining committee feel is our biggest gain in what is contained in the tentative agreement? –Tammy.

From my perspective, it would be the workload language.  Based on the hundreds of conversations that I’ve had with members in facilities/services all across the province, short staffing is a massive issue. With this language, when we are able to show that workload is a safety issue, then we can begin to turn that tide on safe staffing/workload. But we will have to start training ourselves to report to our OOS supervisors; follow the process through to the end in order to see some effective changes.  And the employers will need to address these concerns with timeframes attached.  I think if you ask each bargaining committee member what they feel the biggest gain is, you might get different answers…but this is my opinion.

15. Re Professional fees: what happens if they increase? Will we be covered under this new agreement? –Janet.

If a regulatory or licensing body increases professional fees after April 1, 2017, the increase would not be covered. Just the amount set by the professional association as of April 1, 2017, or $200, whichever is greater.

16. Do you believe you can do better than what you’ve gotten for us, or is this the best you can do? –Patricia.

This is the best we can do with the tools that we have right now. We are asking our members to vote on this tentative agreement and give us their direction.  The bargaining committee considered the impact of bringing this out to our members to decide vs. scrapping this and going back to ‘square one’ (as the employer puts it); in our analysis, we determined that it was best to bring to the membership in order to get that very clear direction.  The results of the ratification vote will determine our next steps.

17. The last time we accepted the last contract, there was retro pay – will there be any retro on this if it is voted yes? – Kimberley.

If this tentative agreement is ratified, the first two years contain a 0% - so there wouldn’t be any retro.  The 1% in the third year would be effective April 1, 2019; so from that date to when the employer gets the new rates implemented into the payroll system, there would be a small period of retro at that point.

18. With 0/0/1/2/2 not meeting the cost of living increases, how can we feel comfortable accepting this and, if it means going into an Essential Services process, so be it.-Kevin.

The SEIU-West bargaining committee is not making a recommendation to our members on whether to accept or reject this tentative agreement. Each member needs to cast their ballot accordingly. I see the issue of moving into an essential service negotiation as a separate question.

19. Re “better thans”: SUN has a provision that you get a 2% increase if you stay with the same employer for 20 years. Would we get that too? –Colleen.

I believe that this is current language in SUN’s agreement…the better thans or ‘me too’ would only apply to anything newly negotiated in this current bargaining cycle.  So, unfortunately, no, it wouldn’t apply Colleen.

20. What will happen if SEIU votes to turn down the agreement but another union accepts? –Lee-Anne.

We still have our separate agreement from CUPE and SGEU. If our members reject this agreement, we would notify the employer and propose to go back to the bargaining table to address the issues that our members have identified.  And if that is not successful, we would likely come back to the membership to seek a strike mandate.

21. How do we know who is essential if we go on strike? – Jade.

With the current Essential Services legislation, the employer cannot name individuals anymore – they can only name the duties of the classification that are essential.  While every single one of our members is important in their role on the health care team, not every single duty you do is ‘essential’. Further to this, the current essential services legislation indicates that the employer must consider out of scope managers, members of other unions or volunteers when they are coming up with an essential services agreement.  So the really short answer is that we don’t know yet, because we haven’t negotiated that.

22. Is no increase to either shift or weekend premium not a concession? –Pat.

That really depends on your perspective.  And I’m not playing ‘word games’ here: members I have talked to indicate that this is a stand pat or a status quo agreement – except for the changes in the tentative agreement.  But your perspective, and others, see that no forward progress in an area like premium pay is a concession.  But we recommend that you consider this and then vote accordingly on either April 11 (advanced poll) or April 16 (provincial vote day).

23. If we elect a different government that is more labour friendly, would we have a better bargaining position? – Dennis.

Frankly, we’ve had bargaining challenges with provincial governments of all stripes.  I think our bargaining position is enhanced when we field a strong bargaining committee AND when our members are as engaged as you were during this round of bargaining. Our members were key to getting out of the -3.5% hole the government wanted to put us in; phone calls, emails, petitions, postcards and personal visits to the MLAs made a huge difference during this round of bargaining.

24. Making short-staffing an OHS issue is great, but it is 100% dependent on front-line employees reporting the issue of working short-staffed. Does SEIU have a plan to educate/encourage members to REPORT this issue? –Patti.

You’re right: we need to change our own behavior and the accepted nature of working short.  That’s going to be tough, be we are starting already with a Worker Safety Conference that is happening at the SEIU-West office in Saskatoon today and tomorrow.  Further to that, if this tentative agreement is ratified with this workload language, we will need to embark on a process to specifically educate our members, stewards and unit leadership on reporting and following through on the workload safety issues.  If we don’t report this and demand a change to the culture, then who will? And it’s important to report this because if there’s no formal report – then it’s like it didn’t happen.

25. Where are we at with overtime for other than FT employees? – Tara.

This language hasn’t changed in our collective agreement. OTFT employees get overtime after working an 8 hour day or 112 hours in a 3 week period.  If you have some questions about when OT applies, don’t hesitate to contact the MRC at 1-888-999-7348 Ext 2298

26. Are they forcing us to privatization? – Brianne.

Good question…the short answer is that I don’t know.  I do know that the SHA and 3shealth have looked to review security services in health care and are looking long term at what the staffing model will be. They have also done a ‘business case’ study of environmental services and determined in-house is best.  Studies show that any of these services are best provided, by way of quality and cost-effectiveness, by staff in the health care system. Contracting out and privatization simply costs a lot of money for the taxpayer.

27. Reading the tentative agreement, it talks about ‘multi-site’ wording. Can you clarify what this means? – Tania.

Any changed language in the tentative agreement is flagged in bold black lettering.  This article is current language…with only the addition of the word ‘may’.  Multi-site language allows for the expansion of employment by allowing people to work at more than one site in a position.  This language also sets out what would be negotiated in the event that the employer wants to create multi-site positions.

28. If we go back to the table, couldn’t they put -3.5% back on the table? –Wendy.

What the employer said to us is that we would go back to ‘square one’…and yet, we don’t know exactly what that means.  We have a verbal commitment made in the press by the Minister of Finance, Donna Harpauer, that -3.5% is not the mandate from government anymore. 

29. How do we fare, as far as the -3.5% offer, compared to other government departments and crown corporations who have NOT accepted a 3.5% decrease? – Patti.

The -3.5% was put to all public sector unions that I’m aware of. The members of SGI are still dealing with it, in some form, at their table, as are the members who work at Casino Regina. I believe that IBEW and SGEU government employee members are currently working through negotiations with same mandates as what we are faced with.

30. What was the bargaining committee’s first ask for wage increases? – Beatrice.

The coalition of SEIU-West, CUPE and SGEU put forward 0%/0%/1%/2% - with a $750 signing bonus in the 2nd year. We proposed this quite early on when the government mandate was still in effect.

31. It seems silly that managers and CEOs get huge bonuses & staff get nothing. How does this address short staffing? – Bonita.

Well, you’re right. There should be some accountability for paying huge salaries to senior leadership – they should be tied to something like safe staffing levels or reduced workplace injuries. But sadly they are not. I believe that short staffing will be addressed by tying the workload language to safety issues. The mandate of the OHS committee will include looking at staffing issues; with timelines for management to respond to the OHS committee recommendations.  But it will require us to report through the process and keep track of responses – we need to change our habit of just letting these issues slide.

32. Extended health benefits package – any changes? – Pius.

There are no proposed changes to the extended health and enhanced dental plan. (Although, our working group has made some modest improvements over the past couple of years.) With the joint trusteeship of EHD, we will have some control over how to apply any surplus money to improve benefits in a sustainable way.

33. Any other concessions other than missing the mark on a general wage increase? – John.

What is in the tentative agreement comprises the changes to our collective agreement. Members need to vote on this tentative agreement to give the bargaining committee direction on whether or not this meets their needs.  If you feel it doesn’t hit the mark – you need to vote accordingly.

34. Where are we at with top up of maternity leave? – Nanette.

This was not a proposal that we put forward during this round of bargaining. When we canvassed what the members wanted to see in a new collective agreement, this wasn’t identified as a high priority in this round of bargaining. When we come back with bargaining surveys, I recommend that you flag this as a high priority item.

35. If we vote no, can they try to take more off the table from what we’ve already gained? – Val.

If this tentative agreement is rejected by our members, everything in the tentative agreement will come off the table. What this would look like isn’t clear: would we start from our original bargaining position/proposals? Or from where we left off prior to getting this tentative agreement? This part is not clear in terms of process.

36. Was the -3.5% just a bargaining tool for SAHO? –Kevin.

I believe that they really wanted us to all take a pay cut in order to save money.  But, as I’ve said before, we fought back at the bargaining table and our members got vocal and active and helped push the government to withdraw those rollbacks.

37. What happens if the tentative agreement is rejected by members? – Patti.

If this is rejected by members, we would likely announce the results to our membership first. Then notify the employer and set up dates to get back to the bargaining table. If we aren’t able to make any in-roads on improvements at that point, we would likely be coming to the membership to seek a strike mandate.

38. If we accept this offer, will it affect our bargaining power in the future? – Marina.

We believe that every round of bargaining is unique; the strength of our bargaining committee – who we put forward to represent us at the table – is key. But also when our members stay informed, vocal and engaged in the process – asking questions, signing petitions/postcards, attending meetings and talking with the MLAs – that truly makes a difference in whether you have bargaining power or not.  It certainly made a difference this time in getting the -3.5% mandate off the table!

39. I read on facebook that the government of Saskatchewan gave themselves a 2.3% cost of living increase for 2018/2019. Can you confirm if this is true? – Lynn.

We got confirmation of this – independent from facebook – by checking out the Legislative Assembly website you too can find out how much an MLA makes.


Thanks again to everyone for their interest in getting the information, whether online, or at an in-person meeting, or during our Virtual Town Hall.  I strongly encourage you to vote on this tentative agreement – it is the most important thing you can do as a union member, because it will provide direction to your bargaining committee.

Polls will open at locations across the province on April 16 and at the SEIU-West union offices in Moose Jaw, Swift Current and Saskatoon. Details are on posters at your facility, or you can find a complete list of voting locations and times on our website.

In Solidarity, on behalf of the SEIU-West Bargaining Committee,

Barbara Cape                                                                



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