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Wednesday, 18 May 2011 17:59

Cypress forced to deal with HSAS pickets

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By Chris Jaster — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Cypress Health Region staff were forced to respond quickly to some of its employees going on strike May 13.

Without any notice to their employer, approximately 50 health-care workers who are part of the Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan (HSAS) union walked off the job and picketed in front of the E. I. Wood Building at 8 o’clock that morning.

Faced with a difficult situation, senior administrators quickly got the agendas of addictions counsellors, dietitians, psychologists, social workers, speech-language pathologists and other HSAS employees so they could contact their clients to notify them their appointments would be cancelled.

Brenda Schwan, the Cypress Health Region’s executive director of human resources was happy with the way the region handled the one-day strike.

“It's my understanding we did get a hold of people to cancel their appointments,” she said.

“Other than I think it's unfortunate we had to cancel patients' appointments in certain areas, we did make it through the day.”

HSAS members have been without a contract since March 31, 2009. Their negotiations with the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO) have not been successful, which led to HSAS members giving the organization a strike mandate.

HSAS gave 48-hour strike notice May 6 before starting rotating strikes in Prince Albert May 9. Members picketed in both Prince Albert and Saskatoon before they walked out in Swift Current.

Cathy Dickson, HSAS’s president, used her time in Swift Current to attack the health regions for not filling vacancies, forcing employees to work short-staffed, as well as the government’s unwillingness to discuss fair wages and go to a third-party arbitrator.

“At this point, we're asking the health regions to post the positions when they do become vacant because right now they just don't post them; they just leave them open,” said Dickson.

“It's vacancy management and that way they can balance their budgets because they have funding from the provincial government for that position, but they just don't post it so they have that money to balance their budget.”

“That's right across the board in all our professions there are incidents of that happening. That's not just in one or two areas, it's common.”

HSAS is also asking for an 18.5 per cent wage increase over four years. SAHO’s most recent offer was 7.5 per cent for all of the 30 different professions in the HSAS union, with the exception of emergency medical services staff. SAHO offered them a market-adjusted wage rate of almost nine per cent on top of the wage increase.

Dickson then attacked the Cypress Health Region for having its managers of HSAS employees who have been deemed essential by the Essential Service Legislation to hand in their calendars, name tags and building/office keys at the end of each work day.

“We certainly hope that this ill-advised middle management dictum will prove to be an isolated case, because each day it is left in place, patients will be losing more services than they otherwise would have, even with strike action,” said Dickson.

Schwan said taking the keys of employees who are in a position to strike at the end of the day is a common procedure for the region that has been used in the past.

Cypress’ policy will stay in place as long as HSAS has a strike mandate, even though employees returned to work May 16.

HSAS is touring the province with strikes in different communities to highlight service delivery issues that are happening in each area of Saskatchewan. It also chose this strategy to show people that the issues — such as long wait times for an ambulance due to understaffing — aren’t just based in Regina and Saskatoon.

The tour of rotating strikes was called off May 16 in hopes the Saskatchewan government would take steps to prevent future strikes by offering third-party arbitration.

The government maintained it wanted to see the issue resolved at the bargaining table. HSAS responded by going on strike in Regina May 17 and 18.

“Right now we've been bargaining with SAHO, which is the government's bargaining agent,” said Dickson. “Right now their hands are tied because they have a mandate that Brad Wall has given them for health care contracts and they don't have any ability to change that mandate, but Brad Wall is the guy who does. If he is willing to change that mandate, then we're willing to come back to the table if they're serious and not just willing to focus on one of our professions.

“The other thing we're hoping for, and it would be preferable for us, is to go to binding arbitration and let an independent arbitrator look at both proposals and what the needs are and make a judgment that both sides have to live by. We feel confident that the proposal we put forward is fair and equitable and we will come out ahead in binding arbitration. We believe the reason the government doesn't want to go to arbitration is because ... they're not offering a fair contract offer to us.”

Premier Brad Wall indicated May 18 that HSAS may be granted binding arbitration if it gives up the right to strike. Click here to find out exactly what he said and Dickson's reaction.

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