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).

Decriminalization, overdose response funding critical to addressing opioid crisis: CUPE

BURNABY—CUPE’s Health Care Presidents Council (HCPC) said today that two moves by the provincial government to address the opioid crisis are important steps that will help save lives while reducing the stigma around drug use that often prevents people from seeking the help they need.

On the fifth anniversary of B.C.’s declaring the overdose crisis a public health emergency, the BCNDP government today announced that it will request a federal exemption from Health Canada to decriminalize personal possession of drugs in B.C. The government also announced a new $45-million investment over the next three years to secure recently expanded overdose prevention services for British Columbians at high risk of overdose—an increase from funding announced in August last year.

“Our members know from experience working in this field that the stigma surrounding this issue can be fatal. Shame causes people to hide their drug use to avoid health care, so that they end up using alone at further risk to their lives,” said HCPC chair Andrew Ledger.

“We have long argued that decriminalization not only reduces fear and shame but makes it easier for people to reach out for the life-saving supports and treatment that our members provide. So we fully support today’s announcement as a critical step in addressing the crisis.”

Decriminalization is an additional tool in B.C.’s accelerated overdose response plan, which also includes harm reduction, prevention, treatment and recovery, while building a system of mental health and substance use care.

Ledger said the additional funding for overdose prevention services is critically needed. Although more than 6,000 deaths have been averted since 2018 because of life-saving interventions, the toxic drug supply has killed more than 7,000 British Columbians since 2016.

For more on the government’s announcement, visit: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2021MMHA0017-000706

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.

Classification updates deliver improvements to pay

Changes effective first pay period after April 1

Upcoming changes to classifications in the Health Science Professionals collective agreement will provide significant pay increases for some Early Child Educators and increased pay for more than 30 different health science professions when they work without general supervision.

As part of the 2019-2022 Health Science Professionals Provincial Agreement, a $10 million fund over three years was established to address decades-old inequities in job categories through restructuring of the classification system.

Phased in over three years, the Memorandum of Agreement re: HSPBA Classification Redesign – Interim Agreement (Appendix 21.1 of the collective agreement) has already implemented numerous classifications and pay adjustments in 2019 and 2020.

Allocation of the $3.33 million to be rolled out for the third and final year has just been agreed upon by members of the joint employer/bargaining association working group. The money will address anomalies flowing from the transition of professions not previously specified in the Industry-Wide Miscellaneous Rates and introducing new classification and compensation provisions for working without general supervision in more than 30 health science professions.

There are two notable improvements that will be effective in April 2021:

  1. Working Without General Supervision

All new working without general supervision (WWGS) classifications established pursuant to Appendix 21.1 will be implemented effective the first pay period after April 1, 2021 and apply to the following professions/classifications:

Anesthesia Assistant

Aquatic Therapist

Art Therapist

Biomedical Engineering Technologist

Cardiac/Exercise Physiologist

Cardiology Technologist

Cardiopulmonary Technologist

Child Life Specialist

Dental Hygienist

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Discipline Allied to the Social Work Discipline

Early Childhood Educator

Environmental Health Officer/ Public Health Inspector

Genetic Counsellor

Infant Development Consultant

Licensing Officer

Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologist

Massage Therapist

Music Therapist

Orthopaedic Shoemaker

Orthoptist

Orthotics Technician

Polysomnographic Technologist

Prosthetics Technician

Recreation Therapist

Remedial Gymnast

Seating Devices Technician

Supported Child Development Consultant

Tobacco and Vapour Products Enforcement Officer

Tobacco and Vapour Products Reduction Coordinator

Vocational Counsellor

WWGS pay applies to staff level positions on any day where the majority of hours of the shift are worked without practical access to general supervision provided by a bargaining unit supervisor of the same profession. WWGS pay is then applied on a payroll coding up basis for the entirety of the shift.

In cases where a staff level position always works without practical access to general supervision as above, the position will be reclassified and paid per the appropriate new WWGS classification and corresponding salary structure.

The respective new WWGS salary structures are as per the pay grid level of the Sole Charge classification for each applicable profession. This means that when staff level positions in the above professions work without general supervision, they will see an hourly increase of 3.8 per cent or more.

 

  1. Salary Structures Improvements for Early Childhood Educators

Early Childhood Educator classifications and corresponding salary structures are revised effective the first pay period after April 1, 2021 as follows:

Early Childhood Educator 1 – Staff

Early Childhood Educator Certificate

Level 2

Early Childhood Educator 1 – Sole Charge

Level 3

Early Childhood Educator 1 – Student Supervision

Level 3

Early Childhood Educator 1 – Working Without General Supervision

Level 3

Early Childhood Educator 2

Early Childhood Educator Certificate plus Special Needs/Under 3 years old Certificate

Level 4

Early Childhood Educator 3

Early Childhood Educator 2 plus Supervision

Level 5

Early Childhood Educator – Preschool Supervisor/Coordinator

Level 6

As with all previous Appendix 21.1 improvements that increase rates to a higher pay grid level, an individual’s initial placement in the higher grid level shall be at the rate that results in a minimum monthly increase of $82. This means that the above salary structure increases will be realized incrementally over the next few years with the end result being pay increases ranging from 7.7 per cent to 15 per cent (plus any general wage increases attained in the next collective agreement commencing in April 2022).

In all cases where the application of this agreement results in movement to a higher pay grid level, placement at the higher grid level shall be at the rate that results in a minimum monthly increase of $82.

Questions can be directed to tpaterson@cupe.ca.

Tanya Paterson

CUPE Health Sector Coordinator, B.C. Region

HSPBA 2021-22 Pro D funds available for CUPE health members

BURNABY—In the 2019-22 round of collective bargaining, the Health Science Professionals Bargaining Association (HSPBA) negotiated an annual $400,000 professional development fund (Pro D Fund) for its members (Appendix 34 of the HSPBA Collective Agreement). The 2021-22 HSPBA Pro D funds have now been made available, so members are encouraged to identify courses and/or workshops and apply for funds beginning today.

CUPE’s portion of these funds each year is approximately $15,000. Applications will be considered on a first-come, first-served basis while funds are available. The funds cover tuition or fees for courses, programs or conferences to a maximum of $300 per member. These funds cannot be applied to books, travel expenses or to cover wages.

Programs must relate to professional development in a health science discipline being practiced in the public health care system.

This release of funds is for programs taken between March 5, 2021 through September 30, 2021. Please be reminded that only one application per member will be permitted for the entire period of February 10, 2020 through March 31, 2022.

Successful applicants will be reimbursed upon proof of completion of the program applied for, along with receipt for costs claimed. If a course, program or workshop is cancelled or otherwise not attended, the application will be cancelled and the member must reapply on a first-come, first-served basis.

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.”

COVID-19 update: marking one-year anniversary, fighting racism as vaccine rollout proceeds

One year after Canada’s first presumptive case of COVID-19 was announced, Premier John Horgan today took time to commemorate the more than 1,000 British Columbians lost to the coronavirus while thanking frontline workers for their efforts in keeping people safe and recommitting the Province to fighting the pandemic.

As well as honouring those who have died, said the premier, today’s solemn anniversary is an appropriate time “to acknowledge the countless efforts and sacrifices people have made to help protect and take care of others” since the pandemic was declared.

“Today we recommit ourselves to protecting people’s health and livelihoods from the threat of COVID-19, knowing that better days are ahead,” Horgan, said in his statement.

On Friday, the government announced a four-phased, age-based immunization plan which, in the first two phases, prioritizes the protection of those most susceptible to severe illness and death from COVID-19. The plan’s final two phases cover the general population.

The vaccine rollout, the largest in B.C.’s history, calls for every eligible British Columbian to receive a vaccine between April and the end of September – a total of 7.4 million doses (allowing for two doses per person). In partnership with communities, businesses and municipalities, the plan calls for clinics to be set up in 172 B.C. communities.

Phase One vaccinations of frontline health care workers began in December for long-term care and assisted living staff, and hospital health care workers who provide care to COVID-19 patients. Phase Two (February-March) vaccinations for health care workers will include hospital staff, community GPs and medical specialists not yet immunized, as well as workers providing community home support and nursing services for seniors.

As additional vaccines become available, frontline essential workers or those who work in specific workplaces who have not yet been immunized may also start receiving vaccines in Phase 3. British Columbians aged 69–16 who are deemed clinically extremely vulnerable will be eligible for early immunization in Phase 3. The timing of each phase may begin sooner than scheduled. Details for how to pre-register for the vaccine using mobile devices, computers or phone will be released by the end of February.

Fighting COVID racism

Also today, the government and the BC Green Party issued a joint statement condemning acts of racism and discrimination against Indigenous peoples under the guise of COVID-19.

“We stand together with Indigenous peoples across the province to denounce and condemn in the strongest possible terms the racist behaviour and discrimination directed at Indigenous peoples,” says the statement, issued by Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin, Parliamentary Secretary for Anti-Racism Initiatives Rachna Singh, and BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau.

“We are deeply concerned about the recent reports coming from members of Cowichan Tribes and the mounting reports regarding anti-Indigenous racism from many other Indigenous communities throughout the province. Racism toward Indigenous peoples has no place in our society and it must stop. We need to stand up to this kind of reprehensible behaviour.”

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.