CUPE Community Health survey to seek member feedback on workload, COVID-19 issues

BURNABY—CUPE’s Health Care Presidents Council has launched a survey canvassing CUPE members in Community Health about workload issues and the impacts of COVID-19 on their working lives. The survey will be used to give CUPE a greater understanding of workload concerns for our members in the Community Health Bargaining Association (CBA) and Health Science Professionals Bargaining Association (HSPBA), throughout and predating the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused increased strain on an already burdened health care system in B.C.,” said CUPE Health Coordinator Tanya Paterson. “The results of the survey will help us determine what kind of tools and support mechanisms our members need and how to best deliver them.” Paterson noted that the data will also be used to better prepare CUPE in the event of another pandemic.

Responses to the workload survey will be confidential unless members are willing to further share their thoughts through a follow up process. Contact information will be separated from responses received.

The survey, which is open to CUPE members from the CBA and HSPBA until April 30, should take approximately ten minutes to complete. It can be found here.

Later this year, the HCPC will conduct a bargaining survey to determine CUPE’s priorities in advance of contract negotiations.

The Health Care Presidents Council is made up of representatives from Vancouver Coastal Health Authority (CUPE 15), Vancouver Island Health Authority (CUPE 1978), Fraser Health Authority (CUPE 4816), Canadian Mental Health (CUPE 3403-01), and PHS Community Services Society (CUPE 1004).

CUPE mental health workers – the pandemic’s hidden front line

Vital outreach workers must deal with triple threat of COVID, opioid and housing crises

READY TO HELP—CUPE community health workers like Local 1004 member Tuesday Andrich have helped maintain vital services for society’s most marginalized during the pandemic.

BURNABY—Since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared last year, the efforts of B.C.’s front-line workers have been widely and rightfully celebrated. Whether it’s fighting the coronavirus directly and saving lives or risking their own physical or mental health to keep vital public services running, these workers—including CUPE members from multiple sectors— have been outstanding and inspirational in their selfless dedication and commitment to helping others.

Among these front-line employees are CUPE members who work in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) and other urban pockets of the province where poverty and substance use intersect. From ambulance paramedics and social workers to nutritionists and housing coordinators, these members’ tireless commitment and sacrifices have literally saved countless lives while improving quality of life for many. But when it comes to the combined impacts of the housing crisis, opioid crisis and COVID-19 on society’s most vulnerable citizens, perhaps no other category of worker knows the pain and suffering these overlapping challenges have caused more than mental health workers.

CUPE represents hundreds of members doing mental health work for the PHS Community Services Society (CUPE 1004), Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health (CUPE 15, CUPE 4816), and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CUPE 3403-01) in Port Alberni. Among the many classifications their work covers, positions range from residence coordinators and homeless outreach workers to counsellors and social workers. To say that these workers provide vital services during a pandemic is an understatement: society’s most marginalized citizens need stability and support at a time when Health restrictions have made people sad and lonely, leading to a spike in alcohol and substance abuse. These CUPE members provide it.

A helping hand for those in need

Whether it’s arranging meals, offering emotional support or sharing leads for short-term employment, CUPE mental health workers play a pivotal role every day in helping the homeless and other people in need. Since the pandemic began, they’ve continued providing that support despite the many challenges COVID-19 has thrown their way and changed how they work.

“We have been a valuable resource by being there and being present,” says CUPE 1004 member Tuesday Andrich, who works as a dayshift coordinator in the DTES. “There are many folks who don’t have access to services, so we make referrals to help them gain access to resources.”

CUPE 15 members cover a range of positions in mental health care work, says shop steward Mia Nickel, who works as a speech language pathologist.

“We have concurrent disorders counsellors and mental health counsellors across a huge variety of settings—primary care, mental health clinics, drug court, youth and family, youth clinics—and more,” says Nickel. “We have folks working in drug and alcohol treatment, detox/daytox—social workers, support workers and clerical staff. The list is long.”

Although not on the same scale as in the DTES or Metro Vancouver, CUPE mental health workers employed by the CMHA provide similar services while facing the same challenges in Port Alberni.

“We provide our clients with safe placements in supportive housing where they can get meals and gain access to programs where they learn skills and obtain transitional employment information and opportunities,” says CUPE 3403-01 chief shop steward Shaunah Cairney, who works as a residence coordinator.

Those employment opportunities, she adds, include everything from cutting lawns and painting bathrooms to the Food Matters program, where clients learn how to work in a kitchen and get Food Safe qualification so they can prepare for job openings.

Meeting the challenge on three fronts

CUPE members in this field have worked hard to navigate the challenges brought on by the three, large overlapping problems of homelessness, the opioid crisis and COVID-19.

“COVID 19 has highlighted the gaps in services, and our members have stood in those gaps by continuing to provide services to the most vulnerable people in our communities,” says Nickel.

For example, says Cairney, a decision to shut down the clubhouse in her community removed a vital social outlet for clients, as it provided a safe place to meet, learn skills and get other forms of support.

“That was challenging, because it meant doing a lot more outreach to make sure that clients had the resources they needed, even though we couldn’t do this onsite. Thankfully, between ourselves and other non-profits in the community, we’ve been able to meet those needs.”

Andrich says that CUPE 1004 members responding to overdoses have had to develop new processes and procedures to keep clients alive, regularly adapting how they execute their work. Part of the adjustment has meant taking on the various risks associated with supporting COVID-19-positive residents: some CUPE mental health workers are employed in newly developed housing programs or projects for COVID-19-positive community members who need the support these programs provide.

“Our members do their best to meet the needs of residents and program participants, whether it’s explaining the Health orders or taking on additional tasks as a result of changes to existing tasks,” says Andrich. Since the Food Security programs have shut down, she notes, members have had to make bulk orders to the food bank and package them for distribution to residents.

“The onus fell on our members to find other ways to do community outreach. We all have different styles and have found different ways to connect and let people know we’re available, but the important piece is that we are able to connect. And we do our best to make sure people have what they need.”

Sharing the burden

For CUPE mental health workers, the irony of this work is that the pandemic’s mental health impacts on clients can, as a result, affect their own mental health, says CUPE Health coordinator Tanya Paterson.

“Imagine working on a daily basis with so many people who were already struggling in their lives before COVID arrived,” says Paterson. “That is bound to create added anxiety and stress, especially with life changing so dramatically because of the pandemic and the added factor of dealing with the unknown.”

Nickel agrees.

“These front-line workers have stood in the breach. They lack guidance and support from employers, but they’re expected to do more and more work. So of course they have suffered,” she says. “Their clients die, regularly, of fentanyl poisoning and they deal with this within their teams and on their own.” Meanwhile, adds Nickel, workload issues across the sector have expanded job duties due to lack of adequate staff (it’s hard to attract and retain good mental health staff when wages are falling behind and workloads pile up), so mental health inevitably becomes a problem for workers in this field.

Andrich says that members’ work was already stressful and exhausting enough without a pandemic to deal with, so adding COVID-19 to the mix has also impacted members’ ability to deliver services.

“There has definitely been an increase in the number of members taking stress leaves, and others have had to take leaves because they have compromised immune systems and cannot risk exposure to COVID-19,” she says. “There’s a lot of fear of the unknown.”

Cairney says that members of her Local, too, have worried about their own health because of the unknown risks of exposure—and the fact they cannot control their clients’ actions or force them to follow Health orders.

“It can be challenging to be present or totally engaged with other people in these circumstances,” she says. “But our employer does reach out to us, to ensure that everyone is okay and to offer resources to help us cope. It has been challenging, but we have been working through it.”

It’s that kind of selfless dedication—that commitment to people in need—that CUPE mental health workers exemplify, making their union so proud.

Health care presidents approve action plan, begin preparation for bargaining

BURNABY—In its first virtual meeting of the year, CUPE’s Health Care Presidents Council (HCPC) today reviewed its action plan in light of pandemic conditions, set a date for a bargaining conference in advance of the next round of contract negotiations, and elected a new executive.

Council members set targets for meeting goals and objectives, adapting the action plan as necessary in the face of changing circumstances brought about by COVID-19. Site visits, in many cases, have had to be cancelled and most locals are now holding virtual meetings.

“These online sessions cover most everything that an in-person meeting has to offer,” said CUPE Health Care coordinator Tanya Paterson. “That means including links to important guidance documents—such as those for occupational health and safety—and creating other ones for areas such as the right to a shop steward, the overtime process, and grievance procedures.”

The presidents confirmed that a health care bargaining conference will take place on October 6. At this conference, delegates will review survey results and set priorities for the next round of negotiations for CUPE members under the Community Health Bargaining Association and Health Science Professionals Bargaining Association.

Also at the meeting, the HCPC confirmed that a half-day workshop on the Enhanced Disability Management Program will be held on March 18.

In elections for the HCPC executive, CUPE 1004 President Andrew Ledger was acclaimed as the new HCPC chair while incumbents filled most of the remaining positions: CUPE 1978’s Kazuhiro Takeuchi (secretary-treasurer), CUPE 3403-01’s Shaunah Cairney and CUPE 15’s Benita Spindel (trustees), and CUPE 1978’s Lindsay Fumalle (alternate trustee). The recording secretary position remains vacant.

The HCPC’s next meeting is on June 3.

 

Ending anti-Indigenous racism in B.C. health care

Last week’s release of former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s final report on anti-indigenous racism in B.C.’s health care system is a clear and resounding call to action to end systemic racial discrimination in the province’s health care delivery.

Turpel-Lafond’s media briefing, which summarized her findings and recommendations (her remarks begin at the 9:10 mark), revealed that many Indigenous people in B.C. don’t have access to family doctors and other primary care, that many First Nations, Inuit and Metis people end up with poorer health than non-Indigenous people, and that Indigenous people are 75 per cent more likely to experience a health crisis requiring emergency room care.

“When you combine these factors with the overwhelming evidence of racism in the health-care system … it’s not difficult to see why health outcomes for Indigenous peoples are poorer,” said Turpel-Lafond, adding that B.C.’s health care system must be free of entrenched racism.

“A full continuum of care and networks of First Nations-led primary care are needed to overcome the serious deficiencies we found for Indigenous peoples.”

The final report reveals much about how the system is working—or not—for Indigenous peoples. Among its findings, the review shows that Indigenous patients are less likely to have access to crucial medical services such as cancer screening and prenatal care (Indigenous women often arrive at the hospital in labour without having had prenatal examinations), and Indigenous children—less likely to see a dentist for regular checkups—are up to 9.5 times more likely to be hospitalized for treatment of cavities. The report also reveals a higher rate of chronic conditions among Indigenous people, worse outcomes for babies and children, and a disproportionate impact from both the COVID-19 pandemic and the overdose crisis.

Turpel-Lafond was appointed last June to investigate racism in the B.C. health care system following reports that hospital emergency staff were playing a “game” where they would guess the blood-alcohol content of Indigenous patients. Her initial report, titled In Plain Sight, was released in November.

Health Minister Adrian Dix, accompanying Turpel-Lafond at last week’s media briefing, pledged immediate action to address systemic racism in B.C.’s health-care system and “rip out its deeply damaging effects.”

Workload reporting now available for CUPE Community Health members

BURNABY—CUPE members working under the Community Health Bargaining Association (CBA) and Health Science Professionals Bargaining Association (HSPBA) can now report workload issues with a tracking form that covers excessive workloads.

Among other things, this form can be used to record such problems as missed breaks and frequent interruptions.

If you’re a CUPE member under a CBA or HSPBA agreement and are experiencing workload issues, please complete the workload journal form and submit it to your shop steward.

Member engagement the key as health care presidents approve 2021 action plan

BURNABY—Having so far weathered the storm of COVID-19’s impact in the workplace thanks to the outstanding work of its members, CUPE’s Community Health sector is looking to ramp up its member engagement efforts during 2021.

At its final meeting for this year, the Health Care Presidents Council (HCPC) on Tuesday (December 8) approved an action plan that calls for more worksite visits, virtual meeting/webinars for each local’s bargaining unit, workshops on the Enhanced Disability Management Plan (EDMP), member guidance documents on workplace rights and the grievance filing process, and continued support to address workload in the sector.

HCPC members also confirmed a two-day workshop (December 14-15) on Intro to Stewarding and Notetaking with a focus on health sector issues and structure. They also discussed the possibility of conducting mental health workshops in 2021.

Also at the meeting, the HCPC endorsed PEA member Cindy Ashton as part-time backup to EDMP rep Benita Spindel, who the Council previously appointed for another year. The health care presidents also approved changes to the Protocol Agreement (including a welcome to the sector of CUPE 1004’s PHS members), confirmed that the classification redesign process continues, and that low wage redress achieved in the last round of bargaining will be applied on April 1, 2021.

It was reported that CUPE has received its portion of the funds for the Health Science Professionals Bargaining Association’s professional development fund. Qualified CUPE members under the HSPBA are encouraged to apply.

Tuesday’s HCPC meeting was Chris Losito’s last as CUPE’s health care coordinator, as he has been reassigned to the union’s K-12 sector. Losito introduced new CUPE health coordinator Tanya Paterson, whose previous work as a CUPE representative includes assignments in the municipal, libraries, post-secondary and transportation sectors.

Call for Expression of Interest: EDMP representative

BURNABY—A temporary opportunity is available for CUPE and Professional Employees Association (PEA) members to serve as the Enhanced Disability Management Program (EDMP) representative.

The EDMP rep plays an active role in assisting members of PEA and CUPE within the Health Sciences Professionals and Community Bargaining Associations who are referred into the program. The position starts on January 1, 2021.

Full details can be found here.

CUPE Health Care Presidents Council calls on members to help re-elect BC NDP government

BURNABY—CUPE members in Community Health can see first-hand the impact of a B.C. government that values our public health care system. Since 2017, the BC NDP under Premier John Horgan have consistently demonstrated their commitment to the public services we all rely on. With the Horgan government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, the BC NDP have led the country in promoting public health while recognizing the importance of frontline health care workers who provide those critical services and keep the public safe.

This record stands in stark contrast to that of the BC Liberal Party, whose record while in government showed contempt both for you as public sector employees and for our public health care system as a whole. Among other things, the BC Liberals tore up contracts, slashed budgets, laid off health care workers, and left the rest of you with unmanageable workloads. For these reasons, CUPE’s Health Care Presidents Council is calling on CUPE members in Community Health to get active during the last two weeks prior to Election Day on October 24 and help re-elect the BC NDP government.

First of all, don’t forget to vote. There are options for physically distant voting in advance of E-Day. For information on how to vote, visit www.elections.bc.ca. There are many solid candidates running where you live and work, including Adrian Dix in Kingsway and Jennifer Whiteside in New Westminster. Adrian’s work as Health Minister during the pandemic, and Jennifer’s advocacy for public health care as secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees’ Union, have been outstanding. CUPE also has members or former staff running as BC NDP candidates, including incumbent MLAs Rachna Singh in Surrey-Green Timbers and Lisa Beare in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, as well as candidates Sylvia Lindgren in Shuswap, Cory Longley in Peace River South, Bryn Smith in Surrey-White Rock, and Dan Coulter in Chilliwack.

As well as voting for the NDP candidate in your constituency, you can make a difference by volunteering on a campaign and by sharing the BC NDP platform with your friends and family. With your support, we can continue the positive work the BC NDP has done to strengthen our public health care system for all British Columbians.

In solidarity,

CUPE’s Health Care Presidents Council

Update regarding temporary pandemic pay

Greetings to CUPE Community Health Sector members,

RE: Update regarding payment of province’s Temporary Pandemic Pay

We wish to inform you that the provincial government has updated the information on its Temporary Pandemic Pay website: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/covid-19-provincial-support/temporary-pandemic-pay.

Of note, the website now states: “Eligible employees will begin to see temporary pandemic pay reflected on their paycheques in October. The timing for payments is dependent in part on the claim accuracy and when it is submitted for validation.”

We have also been informed that the temporary pandemic pay should be paid for overtime hours worked during the eligible period of March 15-July 4, 2020.

Sincerely,

Chris Losito
CUPE National Representative

CUPE 1004 members at Portland Hotel Society to join community health sector

Shift to CBA wage grid offers boost for health workers on front line of opioid, housing crises

VANCOUVER—An agreement reached between the PHS Community Services Society, the Health Employers Association of BC, and CUPE 1004 will this week see approximately 600 CUPE health services and support workers at PHS shift from their Local Collective Agreement to an existing contract in the community health sector—a move that, with wage protection or improvements in every classification, should help restore dignity and respect for frontline staff who provide critical services for vulnerable populations.

Effective October 1, these workers’ Collective Agreement rights will fall under the Community Subsector Association of Bargaining Agents (CBA) contract, which runs from April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2022. All wage adjustments and general increases of the CBA Collective Agreement, retroactive to April 2019, will thus take effect for PHS CUPE 1004 members.

PHS runs 19 supportive housing and shelter buildings and also operates several safe drug consumption sites in Vancouver and Victoria. These CUPE members— mental health, outreach and home support workers, medical and dental assistants, and food service workers—work on the frontline of the opioid, the housing, and the homelessness crises. The daily challenges of their work have been further complicated by COVID-19.

“This melding of our contract to the CBA agreement is a major development for our Local. It represents significant gains for our members at the PHS,” said CUPE 1004 President Andrew Ledger.

“It really couldn’t come at a better time, given the challenges so many of our members have been facing during the pandemic. Bringing these members into the CBA agreement shows respect for their vital contributions to frontline health care services.”

In addition to the annual 2 per-cent-general wage increases for members in the community health sector, the CBA wage grid was recently adjusted to reflect low wage redress in moving the community subsector to parity with facilities. The classifications, wage rates and increment steps were determined through negotiation and the final recommendations of Mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers.

The new MOA does not apply to PHS workers who are in CUPE 1936 or to CUPE 1004 nurse and paramedical professionals. The CUPE 1936 and 1004 collective agreements continue to apply to those employees, whose transition remains in process between the parties and the Mediators.

By joining the community health sector, PHS CUPE 1004 members will also fall under the representative umbrella of the CUPE Health Care Presidents Council (HCPC), which works to build a coordinated approach in addressing common causes for all CUPE community health workers. Through the HCPC, members benefit from coordinated bargaining, conferences for setting contract priorities, and sector-specific educational and member support opportunities.

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