VANCOUVER—Yesterday’s announcement that the federal government plans to decriminalize small-scale possession of illicit drugs in B.C. represents a long-overdue policy shift away from stigmatizing substance use and instead addressing drug addiction as a health issue, says CUPE’s Health Care Presidents Council (HCPC).
Starting next year, Canadians aged 18 years and older will be able to possess up to a cumulative 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA within British Columbia. This exemption from the law criminalizing drug possession means there will be no arrests, charges or seizures for personal possession at or below the 2.5-gram threshold.
The new federal policy follows a request from the provincial government for an exemption. Both federal and provincial ministers for mental health and addictions, Carolyn Bennett and Sheila Malcolmson, respectively, announced the policy shift together at yesterday’s media conference.
“CUPE health care workers are encouraged by this first step in addressing the opioid crisis that many of our members have been working for years to combat. It’s a good first step,” said HCPC chair Tuesday Andrich.
“We have been calling for just such a policy change for a very long time, so it’s good to see all levels of government taking the issue seriously. This kind of collaboration is difficult, but the united front that B.C. and Ottawa have shown demonstrates that all levels of government can work together to effect positive change.”
Andrich added that much more work needs to be done to address the poisoned drug supply crisis in B.C.
“Now that we are seeing this change around decriminalization, let’s see if they can do it on the safe supply issue,” she said.
“Many people still hide their addiction and use drugs alone, and with an epidemic of illicit drug toxicity, this can mean dying alone. Evidence-based research—and our own experience in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island—tells us that safe supply will have the greatest impact on saving lives, and CUPE will continue to advocate for these necessary changes.”
BURNABY—The community health sector continues to suffer from systemic challenges arising from staffing shortages, workload, and mental health issues and needs more support in these areas, CUPE’s Health Care Presidents Council concluded at their quarterly meeting held on Thursday.
In addition to local updates and a sector bargaining review, Council members discussed a report from Local 15 member Benita Spindel, CUPE’s Enhanced Disability Management Program (EDMP) representative. Following Spindel’s report, which raised some of the challenges of her rising case load, the presidents discussed the status of the EDMP and explored ways to better support the program in the future.
Council members also held a longer discussion about raising more public awareness of sector challenges through broader consultation with constituent unions of the Health Science Professionals Bargaining Association (HSPBA) and Community Health Bargaining Association (CBA).
In bargaining, no further talks have been scheduled for the HSPBA table after Thursday’s session. The CBA also wraps up bargaining this week, with two more sessions scheduled in June.
Also at the meeting, HCPC chair Tuesday Andrich (CUPE 1004) thanked retiring CUPE National representative Lee Mossman for his service as sector coordinator and welcomed CUPE National representative Andrew Ledger, former HCPC chair, as the new sector coordinator.
Over the past two weeks, your bargaining association has been meeting with the Health Employers’ Association of BC (HEABC) to discuss key proposals related to your mobility within health authorities and ways to make your collective agreement gender neutral and more inclusive for Indigenous and Transgender workers.
We are working to ensure that everyone sees themselves represented in the language of your collective agreement.
We are scheduled to meet again, starting on May 9, for two weeks. Our aim in those sessions is to conclude all non-monetary talks and move into more substantial negotiations on monetary issues.
Your Community Health negotiations team remains committed to achieving wages that are in line with wages for workers doing the same jobs under the health facilities collective agreement and that keep up with the rising cost of living.
We’ll keep you updated when we return to the table.
The Health Employers’ Association of BC (HEABC) tabled their initial wage proposal for the Community Health agreement, and we are deeply disappointed. We need a significant investment in front-line workers to address the staffing crisis in community health and we won’t accept anything less.
We expect challenging monetary negotiations, but the last weeks of bargaining have shown us that when we stand together, with your support, we can achieve important improvements for our sector.
These past weeks we addressed a number of key areas including overtime, harassment, and portability of seniority. At the table we shared personal stories from your workplaces, and made it impossible for the employer to ignore the issues you face on daily basis and the deteriorating state of our sector. Thanks to all of you who took the time to share your personal stories with us.
We’ve heard from you that you’ve had to choose at times between caring for your children or your clients because of forced overtime due to short staffing. You told us that many community health workers are forced to put yourselves at risk, driving at unsafe speeds, to stick to an unrealistic schedule. Some of you are losing a decade or more of seniority when you apply for a new position—even when it is with the same employer.
There are countless stories, and the common theme is that workers in the community health sector have been overworked, underpaid and disrespected for too long. With your help, we’ve moved the employer on some of our top issues but there is still a lot of work to do. We will all need to do more.
We will be calling on you to talk to your coworkers and ensure that they are receiving updates and ready to act when it’s time to apply more pressure to the employer. We’ll be back at the bargaining table in April and will keep you updated. In the meantime, if you need to update your contact information, please visit this link: https://forms.office.com/r/xBwFjh3WF8.
Your Community Bargaining Association (CBA) tabled our proposals last week as we began talks with the Health Employers’ Association of BC (HEABC).
At this point in time, we are pushing to achieve non-monetary priorities that you identified as important measures to address the recruitment and retention crisis in the sector.
The employer has recognized that we share some common goals. They are aware of the dire situation caused by short-staffing and made worse by the pandemic.
We are continuing in-depth discussions this week on scheduling, hours of work, overtime, and mobility of seniority. Once we have dealt with all non-monetary issues, we will move on to wages, benefits and other monetary issues.
Your Community Bargaining Association (CBA) Negotiating Committee held our bargaining conference this week and will begin negotiations on your behalf with the employers in the Health Employers’ Association of BC (HEABC) on February 3, 2022.
More than 21,000 workers in the community health sector from eight different unions across the province, including 1,489 CUPE members, brought forward ideas and proposals for bargaining.
With your input, we finalized our priorities, and we are ready to meet our counterparts and begin negotiating a new collective agreement.
You told us you need a fair deal that will help close the gap in wages and benefits compared to other health care agreements, allow you to better care for your mental health, and give you greater control over your working conditions.
The pandemic has shown the public how badly understaffed we are in the health care sector and highlighted the impact that has on workers and clients. Because of increased public support for our issues, we have a unique opportunity to win the improvements we need to our wages and working conditions in this round of bargaining.
We look forward to representing you at the bargaining table and we will keep you updated throughout negotiations.
Your Community Bargaining Association Negotiating Committee
Order contains important information for CUPE Community Health members
To all members,
Please find attached a copy of the Order of the Provincial Health Officer, dated October 14, 2021, related to Hospital and Community (Health Care and other services) COVID-19 vaccination status information and preventive measures.
The Order contains important information about who the Order applies to, how the impact of COVID-19 variant development has affected provincial efforts to contain the pandemic, and why a vaccine mandate for all health workers was deemed necessary. The Order, which applies to all CUPE members working in health care, comes into effect on October 26, 2021 and will replace previous requirements.
Under the Order, all health care workers will be required to be fully vaccinated unless they have a medical exemption. No other exemptions will be accepted, and failure to comply with the Order could result in termination.
“The presence of virus variants of concern in the Province, in particular the Delta variant, has not only heightened the risk to the population generally but, more particularly, has significantly heightened the risk to individuals of advanced age, and individuals with chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems,” says Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, adding that the public health care system is under severe stress and stretched beyond its capacity to prevent and respond to illness resulting from COVID-19 transmission.
“Vaccination is safe, very effective, and the single most important preventative measure health professionals…can take to protect patients, residents and clients, and the health and personal care workforce, from infection, severe illness and possible death from COVID-19.”
The Order addresses concerns about individual rights and freedoms. It notes that individual liberty, as defined by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is not absolute but subject to reasonable limits, including “proportionate, precautionary, and evidence-based restrictions to prevent loss of life, serious illness and death, and disruption of our health system and society.”
If you believe you have a case for reconsideration that qualifies you for an exemption, you can submit a request directly to Dr. Bonnie Henry at PHOExemptions@gov.bc.ca with the subject line “Request for Reconsideration about Preventative Measures in Hospital or Community Locations.” For further clarification of the new Order, you can also contact Dr. Henry at:
Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer
4th Floor, 1515 Blanshard Street
PO Box 9648 STN PROV GOVT, Victoria, B.C. V8W 9P4
In the meantime, your CUPE National Health sector coordinator continues to work with HEABC, the bargaining associations and employers to ensure comprehension and clarity in the Order’s application. Please remember that matters are developing rapidly in response to the Order, and we don’t have all the answers yet. As we learn more, locals will be provided with updates for circulation amongst your memberships.
BURNABY—Thanks to a three-year pilot project, the Joint Community Benefits Trust (JCBT) has enhanced services for employees covered under the JCBT to provide virtual health support for those facing challenges with alcohol and substance use. CUPE community health members working under Community Bargaining Association (CBA) contracts qualify for such support.
As of October 7, the JCBT has approved Special Program Funding for the pilot project, known as the ALAViDA TRAiL program. ALAViDA supports the mental health of health workers covered under the JCBT plan by providing a care team to assist with each member’s unique roadmap for recovery and allowing them to access private support from anywhere on any device. Personal information is not shared with employers, the union, or with JCBT.
Health benefits for CUPE community health members working under CBA contracts are provided by the Joint Community Benefits Trust. This Trust was established on April 1, 2017 to ensure that members receive Extended Health and Dental, Long Term Disability, Group Life and Accidental Death and Dismemberment benefits. In 2021, JCBT trustees established the Special Funding Committee to address the Memorandum of Understanding 31. The ALAViDA TRAiL program is funded by the Special Program Funds.
BURNABY—More than 60 people attended an online bargaining conference on October 6, with CUPE health workers from the Community Bargaining Association (CBA) and Health Science Professionals Bargaining Association (HSPBA), joined by guest speakers and CUPE staff, gathering to set priorities for upcoming rounds of bargaining in the sector.
CUPE 1004 President Andrew Ledger, hosting the conference as chair of CUPE’s Health Care Presidents Council (HCPC), thanked delegates for the valuable public service they provide and all CUPE health workers for their daily efforts in keeping British Columbians healthy and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now more than ever, CUPE health care workers are fired up to enter into collective bargaining,” said Ledger. “During the pandemic and moving forward, it is critically important that our members’ interests are well represented and articulated so that we can make the most gains possible, not only for ourselves but for the public and our health care system in general.”
Supporting our members’ bargaining efforts
Regional Director Ann Lennarson reminded delegates that CUPE’s B.C. region has their back and will provide full staff resources and support throughout the bargaining process. CUPE BC President Karen Ranalletta, noting the history of coordination between the union’s political and servicing operations during bargaining, said the strong relationship between the B.C. Division and CUPE National is an important asset.
While CUPE BC may not have a direct role in bargaining, said Ranalletta, the Division can be helpful when negotiations reach an impasse and issues can’t be resolved at the table. “We have shown we can make a difference in many ways,” she said, “up to and including mobilizing public and political support in the event of a strike or lockout.”
Keynote speakers Audrey Guay and Edith MacHattie of the BC Health Coalition described the role of the Coalition and its relationship with labour in defending public health care. Citing campaigns for primary care reform, critical efforts on behalf of seniors’ care, and the successful court challenge of the private Cambie clinic, Guay and MacHattie stressed the importance of the health care system remaining public—especially during a pandemic. They also addressed COVID-19’s impacts on health care workers, including workload, understaffing, burnout, and mental health. Bargaining for better provisions on issues like paid time off and sick leave, they said, can make a difference for everyone.
“You’re not just fighting for yourselves,” concluded MacHattie. “The public needs you to be healthy and well so that our public system is strong and improving.”
Narrowing down the priorities
The BCGEU’s Richard Tones, representing the CBA, and HSA’s Josef Rieder, representing the HSPBA, described their respective roles at the two association tables. They also outlined priorities shared by their own unions and other constituent unions in the associations. During their presentation, there was a discussion about logistics surrounding the question of whether bargaining will take place virtually or in person.
CUPE Research Representative Carissa Taylor presented the results of a member survey on health sector bargaining priorities. Some of its key findings corresponded with an earlier survey on workload and mental health in the sector. This became a major theme through all the conference discussions: bargaining efforts should focus on improving supports for CUPE members’ mental health, particularly in light of workplace pressures that have been amplified by the pandemic.
Before the break, CUPE Health Coordinator Tanya Paterson reminded delegates of CUPE’s national bargaining policy, which prohibits concessions or two-tiered agreements. Along with priorities established by the two associations, the next rounds will also incorporate national bargaining policy to include proposals related to workplace and domestic violence language improvements, as well as improvements to precarious work and union leave language.
For the afternoon session, delegates separated into breakout rooms for CBA and HSPBA members. As well as setting the top three bargaining priorities for CUPE members in the respective associations, delegates elected CUPE representatives to the two bargaining committees. For CBA negotiations, CUPE’s representatives will be Andy Healey (CUPE 1004) and Liza Taylor (CUPE 15), with Shaunah Cairney (CUPE 3403-01) serving as alternate; for HSPBA negotiations, the representatives will be Jennifer Kassimatis (CUPE 15) and Angela Wheeler (CUPE 1978), with Brian Moore (CUPE 15) serving as alternate.
Preparing for negotiations
In the wake of the conference, bargaining committee representatives will participate in bargaining training, including strategic bargaining plan workshops and job action preparation.
“We’ll be rolling up our sleeves to increase member engagement and solidarity in advance of the bargaining process,” said Paterson. “It’s exciting to be working with such a diverse group, knowing how much their collective experience and knowledge will contribute to CUPE’s strength at the bargaining table.”
CUPE represents more than 2,200 members in B.C.’s community health sector providing diagnostic, clinical, inspection, advocacy, home support, counselling, preventative, housing, and harm reduction/safe substance use services. Their contracts expire on March 31, 2022.
BURNABY—At its quarterly meeting this week, CUPE’s Health Care Presidents Council (HCPC) finalized plans for the upcoming Health Sector Bargaining Conference and held a detailed strategy discussion around a CUPE National cost-share campaign scheduled to begin in earnest in early 2022.
Discussing the bargaining conference (October 6), HCPC members voted to shift from an in-person to a virtual event. Even with current health orders allowing for a hotel-based conference, the presidents cited individual comfort levels and travel issues during the pandemic, unpredictable shifting of health orders, and capacity issues with the hotel as a few reasons an in-person event would not be feasible.
Discussion about the conference proceedings included confirmation of guest speakers from the BC Health Coalition—Labour Co-chair Edith Machattie and Organizer Audrey Guay—and an update on the recently launched bargaining survey for Community Health Bargaining Association and Health Science Professionals Bargaining Association members. Survey results will be presented at the conference for discussion while delegates set priorities for the next round of bargaining. Members have until September 24 to complete the survey.
During the meeting, HCPC members discussed various elements of a cost-shared campaign proposal submitted to CUPE National. The campaign calls for member engagement in building public awareness about their critical work during the pandemic and COVID-19’s impact on their mental health.
Also at the meeting, CUPE 15’s CBA sector representative, Mona Mirzayan, was acclaimed as HCPC recording secretary for the remainder of the term.