Saskatoon

Health-care workers union threatens job action in letter to Sask. premier

A union that represents more than 12,000 health-care workers across the province, including many in long-term care homes, is threatening job action if conditions don't improve.

Talks with Sask. Association of Health Organizations broke off May 22, says SEIU-West

The union that represents more than 12,000 health-care workers across Saskatchewan is threatening job action. (Alexander Raths/Shutterstock)

A union that represents more than 12,000 health-care workers across the province, including many in long-term care homes, is threatening job action if conditions in those care homes don't improve.

On Thursday, SEIU-West sent a letter to Premier Scott Moe, as well as Minister of Labour Relations Don Morgan and Minister of Health Jim Reiter, expressing the union's frustration with the province.

"Unless your government immediately empowers and enforces [the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations] and the Saskatchewan Health Authority's mandate to bargain in good faith and provide a greatly improved, genuine offer for our members, SEIU-West is prepared to do all in our legislated power to allow our members to exercise their constitutional right to take job action," read the letter.

The letter said talks between the union and the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations, or SAHO, abruptly broke off May 22.

The union goes on to say that it has written SAHO to confirm it is their intention to cease bargaining completely.

"We await their reply which will dictate our next steps," reads the letter.

The workers in the former Saskatoon, Five Hills, Heartland and Cypress Hills Health Regions have been without a contract for three years.

The letter said understaffing, retention and recruitment issues and dangerous working conditions in care facilities shows "total disrespect" for its workers.

Union president Barbara Cape confirmed the letter existence to CBC, but would not send a copy, stating she did not want to bargain through the media.

"To be three years without a collective agreement and (then) have the employer break talks off just seems kind of, well, very crappy and kind of like a slap in the face."

The tension comes in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, where officials are doing everything they can to stop the spread of the disease inside care homes.

Cape said the union will follow the rules around any potential job action.

"The Saskatchewan Employment Act has some pretty defined steps set out when we reach an impasse in bargaining," she said.

 "It's our intention to follow the law and make sure that we utilize the legislation to do everything properly."

Minister concerned

Health Minister Jim Reiter said the province has instructed SAHO to be prepared at the bargaining table at any time.

He said the prospect of a potential care home strike during the COVID-19 pandemic is worrying.

"Obviously, that's extremely concerning," said Reiter.

"I would hope the union wouldn't take that kind of action. Our seniors need care more than ever."

The minister praised workers in care homes, and said it's important both sides get back to bargaining.

He said it's important that staffing in care homes is appropriate. Since 2007, Reiter said there have been 700 more long-term care workers in the province.

"There's always debate about what is the appropriate level," he said.

"Can we do better? Sure we can. And we need to continue to work towards that."

A report released last week described aging long-term care facilities that do not meet current standards of care, facilities where four residents share one room, widespread problems hiring and retaining nurses, and overall problems with facilities struggling under current funding levels.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story stated that SEIU-West represents more than 12,000 long-term care workers. In fact, it represents more than 12,000 health-care workers, many of whom work in long-term care.
    Jun 05, 2020 10:18 AM CT

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