Saskatoon

Saskatoon Transit union says sick-day manager hired by city 'has created more problems'

Union doesn't want outside company to keep tabs on absences at transit company

Mass transit buses transportation commuters Saskatoon

The union representing employees at Saskatoon Transit says the city shouldn't bother spending more than $70,000 for an outside company to manage absences at the transit company. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

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The union for Saskatoon Transit workers says the company hired by the city to reduce the number of sick days among transit workers "has created more problems than they've done by assisting."

"It has not been a smooth, fluent process. In fact it's been totally the opposite," said Jim Yakubowski, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 615.

Yakubowski also says the city shouldn't renew its contract with Bridges Health, and that the $75,000 earmarked for the extension would be better spent on improving the working conditions of bus drivers.

Some of his suggestions are simple.

"Allow us sufficient time for things like bodily functions: eating and going to the bathroom," he said.

Disappointing results

Last week, the City of Saskatoon released the results of the first nine months of Bridges Health's work, spanning March to December 2016.

The Saskatoon-based company worked with 65 transit workers — only about 16 per cent of Saskatoon Transit's total workforce.

Out of those, 50 took fewer sick days than they had before the equivalent period in 2015 before the pilot program. The remaining 15 were absent even more times than before the pilot project.

Mayor Charlie Clark said he "wasn't overwhelmed" by the results, and overall the number of absences at Saskatoon Transit last year still averaged 17.11 days per employee.

The vast majority of those days involved workers taking time away from their jobs for what they told the city was a medical purpose, according to the city. That does not include categories like maternity leave.

Job takes its toll: union

Yakubowski chafed at the notion that Saskatoon Transit has an absenteeism problem, saying that the high-stress nature of the work needs to be taken into account.

He said out of the local's 415 members, 290 are bus drivers.

"Our sector of work, it's no secret, has a high ratio of illness," said Yakubowski. "We're dealing with, in some cases, 500 people a day that are coming in and out, right past you with colds and flus and all kinds of illnesses."

Mass transit buses transportation commuters Saskatoon drivers steering gloves

The union says improvements to the work area of bus drivers are needed to help reduce the number of sick days taken. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Physical improvements to the work space, particularly driver's seats, would help, he added.

Alan Sneddon, a retired Saskatoon Transit worker and former vice president of ATU Local 615, said "a common injury among transit operators is back related and seats bottoming out is the culprit."

"Some people do not take the sudden jarring to the tail bone as well as others," said Snedoon.

Grievances filed 

If the city has $75,000 to spend, said Yakubowski, it should "look for ways to try to minimize absenteeism through preemptive methods: improve driver areas, improve shifts scheduling so [we're] not driving around with hypertension."

Yakubowski says the union has filed several grievances with the city stemming from interactions between workers and Bridges Health staff.

Jim Yakubowski Saskatoon Transit

Transit union president Jim Yakubowski. (CBC)

The grievances have to do with Bridges staff verifying, or not verifying, whether doctor's notes provided by workers were sufficient or not, said Yakubowski.

"There have been numerous concerns, complaints from our members and process issues that we've brought forward with our human resources department about how members have been treated through the process," said Yakubowski.

Staffing issues

Marno McInnes, the city's director of strategic negotiations, total rewards and workforce analytics, says that when it comes to doctor's notes, the city is following the terms of its collective agreement with the union and what it can do by law.

McInnes did acknowledge the Bridges Health program ran into some staffing issues early on. 

"There were some complaints on some of the handling of the files and we actually had a conversation with Bridges," he said. "[We] dealt with it so we had an appropriate staffing situation where people were responsive to the individual."

Yakubowski says the city should just use internal staff to keep an eye on absences.

City councillors are expected to weigh on whether the city should do that, or keep Bridges Health for another year, within the next month.   

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