Another P.E.I. health-care union enraged over selective retention bonuses

Another health-care union is speaking out over the P.E.I. government's plans to provide retention incentive bonuses to certain health-care workers.

'This would create a lot of toxicity in the workplace — You got the bonus, you didn't.'

Tracy Robertson is president of IUOE 942, which represents P.E.I workers from sectors like construction and healthcare. (Mary-Helen McLeese/CBC)

Union leaders came to the P.E.I. legislature Wednesday to discuss scope of practice, but those discussions were overshadowed by the $8 million in retention incentive bonuses the province announced on Monday for a select group of health-care workers.

On Tuesday, CUPE spoke up for its members who work in health care but will not be offered the bonuses and on Wednesday, it was IUOE with strong words for the government.

"Sorry, I'm getting a little upset here, it was just such a slap in the face, and such disrespect that only nursing would be recognized," said Tracy Robertson, president of IUOE Local 942.

IUOE represents hundreds of health-care workers including lab and X-ray technicians, respiratory therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists.

Robertson made a presentation to the legislature on Wednesday about issues impacting IUOE members. (Mary-Helen McLeese/CBC)

The provincial government announced the $8-million incentive program Monday, offering thousands of dollars in bonuses if people keep working in the province for one year.

Registered nurses and nurse practitioners will get $3,500 for a one-year return in service agreement. Licensed practical nurses and paramedics will receive $3,000 and residential care workers, home support workers and patient care workers will receive $2,500.

Workers feel 'insulted'

IUOE members are not included in the retention incentive program, and Robertson said workers feel "insulted." 

"Lab worked above and beyond — completely excluded. Respiratory therapists, the people who would have looked after you if you had COVID — completely excluded. People who make sure you walk after a stroke, physiotherapists, occupational therapists — completely excluded," she said. 

"So, I'd really like to see Premier King and Minister Hudson go back and explain to everybody why their work is not worth [a bonus]."

Michele Beaton, Green Party MLA for Mermaid-Stratford, said she has heard from many IUOE and CUPE members about this issue already.

"I wholeheartedly agree with you, that if we're going to look at retention, we have to look at the entire team," Beaton said.

'Pick and choose' will create 'unease'

Robert Henderson, Liberal MLA for O'Leary-Inverness, agreed and said it will likely be bad for morale.

'All of a sudden to pick and choose some professions for certain bonuses and certain retention initiatives will obviously create some sense of unease amongst many of these professions,' says Robert Henderson, Liberal MLA for O'Leary-Inverness. (Mary-Helen McLeese/CBC)

"All of a sudden to pick and choose some professions for certain bonuses and certain retention initiatives will obviously create some sense of unease amongst many of these professions," Henderson said. 

Union leaders said the government's decision could lead to health-care workers leaving the Island, and said some are already looking for work elsewhere. 

"I mean, this would create a lot of toxicity in the workplace — 'You got the bonus, you didn't.'" Robertson said. 

Government response

The Department of Health and Wellness said it has reached out to other unions to hear their concerns, and meetings are planned for later this week. 

"In developing our most recent workforce stabilization programs, our government began with the areas where human resource needs and vacancies were most pressing," Minister of Health and Wellness Ernie Hudson said in a statement. 

"We were very pleased with the programs developed to date and we look forward to meeting with representatives of P.E.I.'s remaining health-care unions in order to hear their concerns and do our best to support them and their members."

Robertson said her members have been without a contract since March, and this is not the way she wanted to kick off contract talks.

Ultimately, opposition MLAs and union leaders said it will be Islanders who are going to suffer, especially if more health-care workers decide to leave the Island.

IUOE ineligibility for management positions

Robertson said another issue is that her members, including occupational and physiotherapists, cannot apply for management positions within Health P.E.I. She said these positions are only available to registered nurses, which leads to even more RN shortages.

She said this is not the case in other provinces and has asked for changes in P.E.I., with no results yet. 

Health P.E.I. said its leadership is aware of this concern and is exploring options to address it.

"While some management positions do require the position holder to be an RN, Health P.E.I. is looking at ways to ensure areas that where nursing expertise is not required are able to filled by professionals from other backgrounds," spokesperson Everton McLean said in an email. 

"There are many system-wide concerns that are being worked on, and this is one of them."

With files from Wayne Thibodeau