Message from the President
Bargaining for stronger public community health care
As we all feared, the second wave is now upon us and is threatening to be even more damaging than the first.
As the heart and soul of community health care, you know this better than most. For you, working from the safety of your own home is simply not an option. For your courage and conviction in helping Ontario through these difficult times, the entire province owes you a debt of gratitude.
But gratitude alone isn’t going to make your work any easier, and it’s certainly not going to fix the foundational problems plaguing health care.
The provincial government’s temporary increase to the wages of PSWs and DSWs is a good first step. You deserve every penny of it, which is why OPSEU/SEFPO isn’t collecting any dues on it.
But this temporary increase is only a small step towards the changes we need and that your union is fighting for.
As I said recently in The Toronto Sun, the government must make bold and significant investments in order to repair the massive cracks in our health care system that have been so brutally laid bare by this pandemic.
We don’t need more lockdowns. We need a health care system that can get everybody safely through this pandemic, and the other pandemics that could very well follow.
At Queen’s Park and in the media, you can count on me to continue demanding health care investment – and an end to health care privatization.
But the truth is that you hold the bulk of our great union’s power. And it’s at the bargaining table that you wield it.
As you head into your next round, I urge you to be active in the process. Take part in your bargaining team elections. Set bold demands. And don’t back down. You’ve got me – and 170,000 other OPSEU/SEFPO members – standing at your side.
Together, we’ll ensure that community health in Ontario leaves no one behind.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Meet your sector Executive
Lucy Morton, Chair, firstname.lastname@example.org
Campbell Manson, Vice Chair, email@example.com
Kate Anderson, Secretary, firstname.lastname@example.org
Elaine Giles, Treasurer, email@example.com
Marcus Andrew, Bargaining Representative, firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen Gventer, Newsletter / Communications, email@example.com
Morgen Veres, Member Representative, firstname.lastname@example.org
Anne-Marie Roy, Education Representative, email@example.com
Virtual Bargaining during COVID-19
Bargaining has continued during the pandemic. OPSEU/SEFPO is providing virtual platforms (Zoom, Election Buddy, Simply Voting) to conduct bargaining, hold membership meetings, and conduct local bargaining elections. OPSEU/SEFPO staff have received training in the use of these technologies and are here to support local presidents and highest ranking in the continued running of their locals/units. Staff Representatives have access to zoom accounts and will provide guidance and support to Locals planning bargaining-related meetings.
Regular communication with members and local member participation are central elements of the bargaining process. The lack of face-to face contact amongst members and reduced union presence/visibility in workplaces pose unique challenges for locals/units in bargaining. Recognizing these challenges and adapting to doing things differently can strengthen local solidarity and promote member participation.
Strengthening Local/unit communication during the pandemic
In our sector many of us already spend little time in the office, as our work often takes place in patient homes. Pandemic restrictions have further isolated workers with fewer opportunities for face-to-face contact and to participate in collective acts of solidarity.
Communication is central to any bargaining campaign:
Regular communication with union members fosters accountability and transparency, conveys important information, invites member participation, communicates expectations and member sentiments to employers, and provides a critical feedback loop to the bargaining team.
The pandemic has expanded the use social networks as people seek alternative ways to stay connected. Every workplace is different and has its own culture. The demographics of your bargaining unit will influence the type of social network platforms that members prefer to use.
- Survey members to determine what social network platforms they are using (ie. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Whatsapp)
Choose a platform that allows for a closed group to disseminate internal union communication (Facebook, WhatsApp, email, phone tree, Zoom).
- Always remember that privacy settings are not perfect, and someone who has access to what you’ve posted can still share what you’ve said with others who don’t.
- Choose platforms that can be used for external/public communication tailored to target employer and community (Twitter, Tumblr, text service).
- Assign a union steward to coordinate regular communication based on the strategic advice from the bargaining team and the OPSEU/SEFPO Staff Representative.
PSWs and DSWs receive a temporary wage increase during the pandemic
On October 1, the government announced an investment of $461 million toward a temporary wage increase for Ontario’s personal support workers (PSWs) and direct support workers (DSWs), in an effort to improve workforce retention during the pandemic. OPSEU/SEFPO is not collecting dues on this temporary wage increase.
The pandemic has exposed the importance of undervalued, essential care work that has been poorly compensated. Many PSWs and DSWs have unpredictable hours or cannot obtain full-time employment, and face serious health and safety issues in the workplace. For-profit companies in home care and long-term care further undercut adequate wages, benefits and full-time work to ensure that profits are transferred to shareholders. The government should eliminate the for-profit motive in this sector.
President Warren (Smokey) Thomas has also called upon Premier Ford to offer full tuition support for PSWs through the colleges, which would provide an incentive for PSW students and address the province’s long-standing PSW shortage.
Registered Practical Nurses ask the government to implement a more inclusive and comprehensive wage strategy
The government’s attempt to stabilize PSW and DSW retention rates through a temporary wage hike recognizes the undervalued work of these workers.
This increase further exposes the wage discrepancy between health workers in hospital and community settings where RPNs now face the possibility of being paid less than PSWs. This unintended consequence points to the need for greater wage consistency across the health sector to help recruit and retain lower paid health professionals who have been working on the frontlines of the pandemic in the community.
OPSEU/SEFPO supports the RPNAO’s position, asking the government to address systemic wage gaps through a more comprehensive and inclusive approach that eliminates lower wage rates for the same work performed in community settings.
Bill 175, the Home & Community Care Act
The Ministry of Health has continued to recruit and expand Ontario Health Teams during the pandemic. Meanwhile, under tremendous pressure, the LHINs have continued to provide services where most needed as part of the broader pandemic health response. Frontline workers continue to work under stressful conditions of uncertainty and we thank them.
The Home and Community Care Act has received Royal Assent and the ministry is now in the process of writing regulations. In its submission, OPSEU/SEFPO highlighted that the Ontario Health Team model weakens transparency and accountability and will continue to demand that regulations do not further water down the already diluted legislation which does little to protect patients. The Act does not clearly protect and expand community health services and fails to address systemic workforce issues that stretch frontline workers that are already working at capacity.
OPSEU/SEFPO is committed to continue to advocate for the elimination of for-profit service delivery in home and community care which has instituted job insecurity, low wages, and poor working conditions. Home and community care should be viewed as integral health services, which help reduce healthcare costs, preventing costly hospital admissions and must be better funded as key partners of our health system.
Public Health Amalgamations update
In April 2019, the provincial government announced plans to reduce Ontario’s public health units from 35 to 10, through amalgamations. In October of the same year, an advisor was appointed to conduct consultations and report back to the government. Due to the coronavirus, the deadline for the submissions to the Ministry of Health’s consultations was extended until March 31, 2020.
OPSEU/SEFPO has concerns about the amalgamations. Consolidating Ontario’s 35 Public Health Units into 10 regional health entities would mean less local authority and accountability; patient care would suffer as geographic boundaries expand; and services would be consolidated into fewer sites, typically in larger, more urban centres.
The work on the amalgamations has been put on hold after significant backlash from local public health units on the reforms.
COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of local public health units. These units are leading communities through the pandemic and tailoring public health guidelines according to local needs.
It is unclear what direction the amalgamation will take, or whether there will be any change in policy. We expect to see the government report in the spring, following the end of the consultation process. OPSEU/SEFPO will be ready to respond to the report and take action to defend the critical work that our members perform in public health units across the province.
Stay in touch!
To get communication directly from the sector, please send your personal email address to Chair Lucy Morton at firstname.lastname@example.org.