Canada’s largest union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), is launching a national campaign to fix Canada’s broken long-term care system, by making it a part of our public universal health care system.
Public sector workers are the backbone of our communities. CUPE Saskatchewan wants to shed a light on the hard work our members are doing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As schools around the province are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CUPE education support workers are finding new and creative ways to meet the needs of students and communities.
In the Chinook School Division, bus drivers who are members of CUPE Local 4754 are being redeployed for a new purpose.
Omar Murray, president of CUPE Local 4754 and a member of the Education Workers’ Steering Committee, has been a bus driver in the Maple Creek area for over 30 years. Murray hasn’t experienced anything like the COVID-19 pandemic before.
Murray still drives his usual route, and an additional route in town. But instead of picking up students, Murray and other drivers are dropping off special packages for students to continue educational enrichment during the pandemic. However, instead of a daily run, the packages are sent out on a bi-weekly basis.
Responding to Deputy Minister Donna Johnson’s comments today, Saskatchewan’s largest union is strongly disputing the claim that workers will no longer have the right to refuse dangerous work or that COVID-19 will not be regarded as an unusually dangerous hazard by the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety.
“Saskatchewan workers musn’t be exploited by the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan and the dubious claims by a deputy minister that somehow COVID-19 is no longer an unusually dangerous hazard,” responded Judy Henley, president of CUPE Saskatchewan. “We have been in the middle of an unprecedented public health emergency caused by this highly infectious disease, and the deputy minister is misleading us all to now consider working conditions safe. The deputy minister should be cautious of the danger of misleading workers about their rights to workplace health and safety,” said Henley.
Saskatchewan’s largest health care union, CUPE Local 5430, is concerned that the government’s cohorting policy is disproportionally hurting almost 6,000 CUPE relief workers.
Introduced on April 28, cohorting in long-term care means that workers can only work in one facility, which is helping make facilities safer, but could also have a devastating impact on the health care workers who depend on shifts at multiple facilities to help make ends meet. Relief workers have no guaranteed hours and must often work at multiple facilities to cobble together enough work to make a living and support their families. Part-time workers usually also hold a relief position to make up full-time hours.
“Relief workers are providing critical support during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sandra Seitz, president of CUPE Local 5430. “But they haven’t been spared the burden of job insecurity. The government has to act right now so that our front-line heroes in health care aren’t being left behind.”
The Community-Based Organization (CBO) sector carries out critical work for vulnerable community members all across Saskatchewan. At the same time, the sector is poorly funded, workers are underpaid, and their work is undervalued.
Over 30 CUPE locals across Saskatchewan are involved in the CBO sector. Cindy Lasko represents one of them. She works at Prairie Branches Enterprises, which offers a variety of supports through group homes, day programs, supportive employment, and supportive independent living. She is also the president of CUPE Local 3583, which represents around 80 group home workers in Unity, Wilkie and Kerrobert.
The unions representing health care providers in Saskatchewan are calling for the Premier to follow in the footsteps of almost every other jurisdiction in Canada and provide a wage top-up for health care workers.
Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta have all taken steps to enhance the wages for health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. CUPE Local 5430, SEIU-West and SGEU Health Providers have written a letter to Premier Scott Moe, asking the provincial government to take steps to lift up the wages for health care workers.
Last week, the Scott Moe government announced a wage top-up for front line workers, but health care workers were noticeably absent from the list of eligible employees.
The fight against the coronavirus has shown that workers and public services across Saskatchewan, this country and around the globe keep our communities safe, cared for and strong. All workers deserve recognition for their contributions, their commitment and their courage.
It has unfortunately taken an unprecedented crisis of a pandemic for the government and employers to show more recognition to their front-line workers, to urgently invest in public services long starved of funds, and to finally recognize just how unsustainable a society is with low wages and precarious work.
May Day is a time to reflect on how Unions have fought hard, enduring struggles to establish collective bargaining and democracy in the workplace bringing decency, fairness and safety standards to our work. It is also a day to resolve to do much more.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on how important well funded, public, long-term care is for residents and their families. Today we are featuring the hard-working members of CUPE Local 5430 who are the backbone of our long-term care system.
Long-term care homes have been at the forefront of COVID-19 outbreaks in other provinces and account for the majority of deaths attributed to the virus. Seniors are the most at risk from the virus, and long-term care homes across the province have been locked down to visitors and volunteers.
“Everyday, CUPE Local 5430 members are caring for your aging family members. During the best of times, long-term care is understaffed and under resourced,” said Sandra Seitz, president of CUPE Local 5430. “COVID-19 has created a stressful situation for health care workers, and their families. Our members are going above and beyond to provide hands on care to our most vulnerable citizens.”
CUPE Local 5430 is the largest health care union in Saskatchewan, representing over 13,600 members, many of whom work in long-term care.
CUPE Saskatchewan is concerned that the Re-open Saskatchewan Plan does not provide enough clarity when it comes to front-line workers.
“This plan was clearly designed with business interest in mind, and it does not address the concerns facing working families,” said Judy Henley, president of CUPE Saskatchewan. “There is no solution for parents who require childcare to return to work, no solution for workers who have exhausted their sick leave benefits, and there is no solution for protecting front-line workers.”
Provincial and international shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will be a major hurdle in ensuring the province can re-open safely, said Henley.