PRECARIOUS!

precarious

Precarious. The word makes me think of danger, uncertainty and risk. The definition is “held through the favour of another, obtained by asking or praying and dependent on the will of another”.

When you put the word “workforce” behind precarious it takes on a whole new meaning. If it sounds horrible, that’s because it is. Lots of precarious work is mis-labelled as offering “flexible-hours” or is classified as temporary, contract or seasonal. This precarity is accepted as the price of an entry level job, or as a way for older workers to remain employed to supplement their CPP or pension, if they’re lucky enough to have one. Looking around, we see the growth of the “gig economy”. Many young workers know they’re not likely find a single job that will sustain and support them – they’ll have to juggle multiple “side-gigs” to pay the bills.

Across Canada, companies and governments are staffing permanent positions with contract and temporary workers. These vulnerable workers do the same work as permanent employees – often working right alongside the permanent staffers, but they are denied the rights of full employment. These workers are subject to unreliable income, no job security, and lower wages. Thanks to the nature of their employment, they’re often denied the right to join a union. Even when they have the right to unionize, many are afraid – they know full well how easily they can be replaced.

Women, youth, minorities and migrant workers are much more likely to fill these kinds of jobs- at least that has been true in years past. The demographics are changing though. Permanent employment across many sectors has shifted to precarious jobs through outsourcing, use of employment agencies, and the inappropriate classification of workers as “short-term” or “independent contractors.”

Does this type of exploitation exist in the Yukon? Absolutely! Over the last few years Yukon Employees’ Union has successfully unionized a number of workplaces that follow this staffing model. Many are organizations providing social services to vulnerable community members. These are often non-profit organizations, overseen by volunteer boards of directors. Reliant on government funding or grants, there is rarely much room to maneuver in their staffing budgets, so some rely on “creative employment standards” to meet their staffing needs …precarious employment resulting in high staff turn-over rates. Of course these outcomes can also result in the organization’s diminished ability to meet client needs.
People who choose to work in care and service roles are some of the most compassionate and empathetic people I have met, hard-wired to put the needs of those they serve before their own needs. It’s a sad truth that most are also struggling to make ends meet, working more than full time hours, working more than one job, with few benefits and no job security.

While these non-profit sector bargaining units are small, there are now roughly 300 Yukoners that can count on a living wage, benefits and perhaps even some form of retirement package. This means they can do the work they love without struggling with the precarity of so many similar jobs.

Our goal as a union is to remind employers of their contractual obligations to their workforce. It’s not acceptable to manipulate the rules of engagement to keep workers from accessing the full benefits of their labours. When a seasonal employee is re-hired year after year, but laid off for one day each year so the employer can sidestep the duty to provide a full employment package, we’re going to step up and challenge that. We don’t believe in a two-tiered workforce, with permanent and precarious temporary workers doing the same job while receiving wildly different levels of respect and payment.

We have had some success with our larger Yukon employers by monitoring the use of on call, seasonal and casual employees. We will continue the pressure to ensure anyone working full time hours is treated equitably, with a proper rate of pay, benefits and workplaces that are safe both physically and mentally. To date YEU has been able to facilitate those changes for about 50 Yukon workers.

What difference does the permanent job make? Same job, same or similar rate of pay, with a benefit plan, the ability to contribute to a pension, and stability! Think of the impact on a worker’s life; a permanent job (not a precarious, seasonal job or never-ending series of temporary contracts) can mean the difference between being accepted or denied for a mortgage. Only the employer benefits from staffing permanent positions with contract, seasonal and temporary workers. Our communities suffer, workers suffer, and the inequities between co-workers creates an unjust working environment.

50 workers now in permanent jobs; 300 Yukoners working in service roles who are now able to count on a living wage and union representation – those are no small achievements. We’re not done, but that’s okay. We’re going to keep at it – stay tuned!

Steve Geick, President

Yukon Employees’ Union

 

#millennials-the kids are not all right.

Who are the Millennials? A millennial is anyone born between the early 80’s and the late 90’s – they are a pretty large cohort. Basically, if they’re younger than YOU, they’re millennials. If they’re annoying you, they’re millennials. If you don’t like a style, a trend or a new reality, blame that demographic. Everybody’s doing it. According to the press, they’ve killed the serviette industry and Sears. Really.

Millennials catch hell for just about everything they do or don’t do, buy or choose not to buy. Millennials are scapegoated or mocked almost daily in the media as lazy, vain, celebrity crazed and s­till living with their parents at 30. In fact, they are a socially conscious, diverse and well educated generation, busy challenging the status quo and changing the world in some profound ways.

As workers in their early 20’s to late 30’s, millennials comprise an enormous chunk of the work force. Many struggle to find an entry point into steroid enhanced housing markets, while staggering under crushing student debt. Too many work in jobs that are precarious and poorly paid with few benefits, little security and no hope of a pension. 

The stable union jobs that allowed their parents’ generation to thrive have all but disappeared. The wages that allowed home ownership were the outcome of negotiated collective agreements, but no-one is talking to young people about unions. Organized labour has been so demonized by corporate interests that many union members feel little pride in their membership. As a result, they don’t talk with their kids about the very real advantages of union membership.

Millennials are the first generation who will find it difficult to achieve the same financial stability their parents enjoyed.

In fact, studies have shown that a university educated 30 year old today earns about the same as someone without a degree in 1989, in today’s dollars but of course, the cost of living has skyrocketed.

Few young workers have had much exposure to unions and the bargaining power unionization allows. With many millennials working as interns,  contract labourers or navigating the new “sharing economy”, the idea of collective bargaining seems out of reach. Without it, decent salaries on which to raise a family, buy a home, and save for the future are unlikely.

Millennials starting families are faced with some hard choices. It’s almost impossible to afford daycare for more than one child, but few young families can afford to have one parent stay home – housing costs alone make that choice increasingly difficult. Young workers have some very compelling reasons to join a union and to support the ideals of the labour movement.

Union activism in young workers is in decline, so it’s up to the more seasoned union members to encourage them to look for unionized jobs. Talk to young workers – help them organize their places of work. The loss of good jobs won’t just affect millennials and their children, it will affect every Canadian.

Low wages mean a shrinking tax base, and an ever diminishing ability to fund the services and programs Canadians count on. Canada’s healthcare system will undoubtedly suffer without healthy incomes for this and future generations.

Let’s stop blaming millennials for the real world problems they have inherited. Let’s remember how important unions and union jobs are to communities and families. Let’s support young workers as they try to organize their places of work, and let’s encourage contract workers to find unions that connect and empower free-lance and sharing economy labourers.

Community Nurses need support – STAT

Postcard front Sign Petition

“We will ensure that we have the necessary staff in place for this coming tourist season.”

Yukon’s Health & Social Services Minister Pauline Frost announced emphatically in the Legislative Assembly on May 23rd that the Yukon’s Liberal Government will fully staff the territory’s Community Health Centres for this summer’s tourist season. Considering it’s now mid June, we wonder how that will happen. While Yukon Employees’ Union, Community Nurses and all of us who drive the highways would love to see this happen, so far there has been no action.

Nurses often work alone in small highway communities where they must be available 24/7 for weeks at a time with no relief.  We hear of nurses working late into the night and reporting for duty first thing in the morning, day after day. Nurses are routinely exposed to violence and threats on the job, and are more prone to make errors when they have no opportunity to rest. With no respite, the work is exhausting both physically and mentally.

The Collective Agreement signed between the employer and the union in 2016 included  a Letter of Understanding addressing One Nurse Health Centres. This pilot project was designed to create additional full time nursing positions in both Beaver Creek and Destruction Bay,  communities facing chronic nurse shortages. The dangerous under-staffing is most pronounced during the summer months when increased highway traffic and higher patient numbers tax the nurses to the near breaking point.

From May 1 to September 30, each of the two communities are to be staffed with an additional nurse, and a single additional nurse is to be on staff from October 1 to April 30th, shared equitably between the two communities. The addition of two full time staff for the busiest summer months will help alleviate the risk of overwork, personal safety and fatigue. That’s critical – not just for the nurses, but for the communities they serve and the many thousands who travel Yukon’s highways.

Yukon’s Nurses were promised this support in the ratification of Letter of Understanding M, designed to provide a second full time nurse in the two communities most consistently affected, Beaver Creek and Destruction Bay.  Although that LOU came into effect with the current Collective Agreement January 1 2016, to date no more nurses have been hired.

We ask you to please sign our petition. Ask Minister Frost to provide Yukon’s Community Nurses with the resources they have been promised, STAT!

3community nursing petition graphic

Finally! Yukon to Amend Human Rights Act & Vital Statistics Act.

On Tuesday May 16 2017 the Yukon Legislative Assembly voted to amend the Yukon Human Rights Act and Vital Statistics Act to explicitly recognize and protect the rights of transgendered Yukoners.
The amendments were first recommended to the Government of Yukon in 2008 by the Human Rights Commission who argued that although existing legislation cited sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination, it did not specifically protect against discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression.
Changes to the Yukon’s Vital Statistics Act will include, among other changes, the removal of provisions requiring proof of gender reassignment surgery, certified by two physicians before any change to the gender marker on official identification documents like birth certificate. This institutionalized discrimination speaks to a systemic disrespect that the new legislation will serve to change.
We want to acknowledge and thank Trans Rights activist Chase Blodgett who has been absolutely instrumental in getting these changes made. Chase has challenged us to re-examine our personal biases, to check our privilege at the door and to stand and be counted as allies. The road to change is not an easy one, and it’s brave and fierce activists like Chase who have the courage to take it on the chin on the system so others are spared the same indignities in future. 

Bargaining, Dissent & Democracy

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Working together is not always easy – it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about family relations, getting along with colleagues, working well with managers, or maintaining positive union connections. It can be hard to see eye to eye. Sometimes it’s even harder to remember we’re all on the same team, working for the same goals.

During bargaining, these relationships can get especially strained. Colleagues might not agree on what’s important enough to ask for at the bargaining table, negotiating teams may disagree on the best approach at the table or on the mandate the members have given. Union representatives walk the line between what the members demand and what the employer will give, trying to get the best deal for the bargaining unit without causing irreparable harm to the ongoing workplace relationships.

The thing is, sometimes there’s no easy way to get from a place of conflict to a resolution. Communication helps, in fact it’s often the only thing that really does help. Sometimes though, you don’t have the freedom to communicate the way you’d like. Sometimes you try but there are too many barriers in the way.

Unions negotiators are in a unique position. They may have information that they can share with the bargaining team but not the membership at large. If confidential details from their discussions at the table leak out, the entire process of bargaining could be jeopardized and the negotiations could be stalled.  Members of a bargaining team are required to uphold the confidentiality of the information they acquire at the table, and the consequences of breaching that trust are enormous to the members.

Each workplace is different and each round of bargaining takes on its own personality. What can members do if they don’t understand what’s happening? How can you register dissent if you are not happy with the process, the outcome, the messaging or the agreement your team has reached?

Put yourself in the shoes of the bargaining team, first of all. Recognize the time and effort they have put into the process on your behalf.  It’s hard to face down your employer at the table. You don’t have to agree with everything the team puts forward, but it helps if you can recognize the work, and their good intentions.

If you don’t understand what is in a tentative agreement or don’t think the team has gotten close enough to the deal you’d hoped for, speak up. Vote against the agreement at a ratification meeting and state why on the back of your ballot. Have a conversation, write a letter, make a phone call, ask the questions. In short, participate in the process.

You don’t like the direction your team is going this round? Step up. Provide bargaining input next time. Nominate yourself or someone else who shares your values to the bargaining team. Unions are democratic organizations. You can complain all you want, you can be pro or con, but unless you get active and engage, you’re not making anything happen, for good or for ill.

Recognize too that your team does everything they can and your negotiator takes the employer as far as they’re willing to go. It’s not in a negotiator’s  training to leave money on the table, to let a question go unasked or to fail to try for everything the members have requested.

Democracies are uncomfortable, crunchy places sometimes. Open dialogue and discussion is not always smooth sailing but it’s necessary and important. If you are happy, great, let’s talk about that. If you’re not happy, let’s talk about that. Like any kind of conflict, you have to take your concerns to the right place. Facebook, the coffee room… maybe that’s not the right place. Sure it feels good to vent, but what difference are you going to make, really?

Got a problem? Have a question? Like what’s happening, don’t like what’s going on? The right place is right here. Give us a call. 867-667-2331, 1-888-YEU-2331, contact@yeu.ca.

We’re listening.

Steve Geick, President of YEU

The Boss Wants your Medical Records? Call the Union …Quick!

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All of us at YEU are concerned for the privacy of YG employees and the protection of their personal & private medical history.

Sometimes workers must provide their employer with medical information to access a workplace accommodation or receive benefits. The right to privacy is quasi-constitutional, meaning it can’t be set aside or trumped by other policies or rules, so any exceptions to that right must serve a legitimate purpose. Any information shared has to be handled with extreme caution. An employee’s medical condition must have a genuine impact on their work, affecting attendance or creating performance issues. Without a significant impact, the employer does not have a right to medical information- period.

Employees seeking a medical accommodation are obliged to provide some information to the employer; we don’t dispute that. The information must be limited to prognosis and limitations or restrictions that would affect your ability to perform your job. Often though, there is uncertainty about what the employer is entitled to, and how they should be using and protecting this information. Your diagnosis is your business, not your employer’s. Requests for information or history beyond what is genuinely needed are invasive;  employees can never be sure who will see their private information once it has been provided.

We know of many instances where the Yukon government has collected extensive medical information on employees, far beyond what is required to access benefits or develop an accommodation plan. In several cases, information about other family members has been collected and shared – clearly without their knowledge or consent. Over time, these reports have been copied, e-mailed and viewed by many people in various government departments as well as other service providers.

This should never be allowed to happen; it can be very distressing for the workers involved, and is a significant concern for the union. Many employees do not ask for the union’s help at the beginning of the accommodation process, and end up providing a lot of unnecessary and deeply personal information to their employer.

An employee should share medical information only when absolutely necessary, and only the information absolutely required to reach an accommodation. Any general requests for medical records should be refused. The employee should also refuse to authorize any employer representative to speak with their doctor directly. A reasonable alternative is to have the employer write their questions out so that the employee can discuss it with their doctor and consent to specific disclosure.

YEU has asked the Privacy Commissioner to examine Government of Yukon’s processes around collecting, using, sharing and retaining medical information related to the disability management and accommodation process. In the meantime, we can help employees navigate the inquiry and accommodation processes and support employees in protecting their privacy.

Employees should contact YEU before agreeing to share any medical information. Call 667-2331

Post-Traumatic Stress Injury: Hearing, Helping, Healing

ptsi-blue-sky-black-cloud

Jim Regimbal chaired the Yukon Employees’ Union’s recent Human Rights panel discussions of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury.  As Dawson City’s Fire Chief, President of the Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs, and Yukon’s Director on the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, he has advocated for improved services to first responders suffering from PTSI and has been instrumental in bringing the issue into focus in Yukon.  He provided powerful empathy and insight earned from his many years on the job. 

The first step is acknowledging and accepting that, whatever name it’s given, Post-Traumatic Stress Injury is real and that trauma significant enough to cause injury can’t easily be quantified. The science supports this, with mountains of evidence explaining the changes to brain structure caused by exposure to trauma. We can’t choose not to “believe in PTSI” any more than we can choose not to believe in climate change. The evidence is clear and the science is irrefutable.

PTSI can be the result of a sudden, dramatic incident but it is just as likely to develop invisibly over many years.  Its onset can come without warning, sometimes after a seemingly benign event.  Whitehorse Psychologist Nicole Bringsli used a water glass analogy; a glass can hold only so much liquid.  All it takes is one too many ordinary, inconsequential drops of water and the glass spills over.  We can witness and contain only so much pain and trauma before we reach our capacity to cope and, like the water glass, we risk spilling over.

What constitutes trauma?  There’s no easy answer. Trauma that affects one individual very profoundly can sometimes be borne by another, or can be overcome with access to the right kind of support at the right time.  Bringsli reminded us that each individual brings their own history and sensibilities to their work, and each person responds differently to similar circumstances.

What occupations or events are likely to lead to psychological injury?  Combat veterans, first responders like firefighters, police officers, EMS providers, dispatchers and corrections officers witness things they can’t ever forget, scenes and calls that will affect them forever.  A career of running into burning buildings, delivering terrible news or fighting to save lives takes an enormous toll on the heart and psyche.  There are many lines of work that put people at risk, and it’s important to recognize the danger so we can provide appropriate resources to all those who need them.

Many caring professions are occupied predominantly by women, and many struggle silently with the emotional impacts of that difficult work. Though rarely labelled PTSI, the ongoing emotional trauma has the same impact on quality of life and mental health. It’s time to consider how broadly affected both men and women are by their work, and how many professions are high risk for psychological injury.

Social workers face heartbreaking situations in the line of duty. Removing children from dangerous homes, denying parental access and leaving vulnerable children in foster situations takes a terrible toll. Sheena Larose, a former Child Protective Services worker from Ontario recently wrote “Unless you are in the trenches, people don’t understand that child protection work can be among the most intensive, heart-wrenching and volatile work one could ever encounter.”

Social workers counsel child abuse victims and must bear witness for their frightened and confused young clients. When we talk about social workers’ emotional health, we often say they have “burned out”… we don’t consider PTSI as a likely outcome.  Vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue – whatever we call it, the results can be life altering and career limiting.

Front line workers in shelters for domestic violence victims face recurring trauma – imagine the daily challenge of maintaining a healthy outlook when you’re immersed in the pain of others.  How hard must it be to turn a woman away when your facility has no space, knowing she and her children have no choice but to return to a dangerous home?  These workers must also remain anonymous to protect the security of those they help, and so they often have no choice but to struggle in silence, without recognition or support.

Prevention is more valuable than cure; our panel members spoke again and again of the urgent need for effective critical incident de-briefing practices, currently almost non-existent in Yukon. They talked of the need for trained peer support, for non-judgemental listening and for access to counselling services. Other jurisdictions have comprehensive supports we haven’t even begun to consider here in the Territory. 

When our panel was asked for a wish list to help combat Post-Traumatic Stress Injury, there was consensus on the need for critical incident debriefing, for pro-active discussion and peer support. More funding is needed to ensure local mental health service providers are resourced to provide care when it’s needed. Employers must prioritize worker safety and be as diligent in protecting the minds and spirit of their employees as they are about their physical well-being.    

Jeannie Dendys, Yukon’s new Minister responsible for the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health & Safety Board offered her commitment to supporting PTSI prevention & treatment.  YWCHSB Chair Kurt Dieckmann stressed the role of the employer and the value of prevention.  It’s important to make sure protections are built into work environments likely to experience critical stress and trauma.  Normalizing help-seeking behaviour will go far, he says, to de-stigmatizing PTSI and making work safer.

How we respond to our injured colleagues, neighbours and family members, is an indicator of how likely they are to heal.  Forcing sufferers to convince us of their injury, prove its cause and defend their need for help adds insult to injury and creates barriers sometimes too great to overcome.  During the recent Territorial election campaign, new Premier Sandy Silver promised to amend the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Act to include presumptive provisions for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD/PTSI) in first responders. That commitment was echoed by Minister Dendys at our event.  At YEU we believe presumptive provisions must cover first responders, but that other high risk worker groups must also be included if the system is to protect those at greatest risk of harm.

Our community is compassionate; we are quick to help families in need. We support our sick, injured neighbours when there’s a fire, a death or catastrophic illness. That empathy must extend to the helpers, not just to the victims. 

We invite you to watch the full video recording of our two panel discussions.

Watch The Nature of Things for PTSD: Beyond Trauma

 

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