Happy Labour Day from YEU

 

Happy 124th Labour day, Canada!  From its humble beginnings in 1872, it was over 20 years before a National Holiday honoring workers was declared in 1894.  Canadian workers paid dearly with blood, sweat, tears and sometimes their lives to achieve a 58 hour work week – the first battle won by the early, newly organized labour activists.

As organized labour we’ve come a long way in 124 years – a relatively short period of time. With globalization and increasing pressures from the right, it’s more important than ever that we don’t forget the sacrifices made by a few over a hundred years ago. Let’s take some time this Monday to reflect on where we came from and how we can continue to make Canada a better place for all workers.

The Yukon is a pretty well-organized place, at least when compared to the rest of Canada. With almost 33% of our workers unionized, we boast the highest union density per capita and that density has been maintained for over 50 years. In many ways, Yukon is a big union town. This Labour Day, we want to thank everyone who works so hard to keep this territory and this country strong.

This historical photo shows Dawson’s Labour Day Parade in 1906. In the middle of the last century, Yukon’s workers began organizing in earnest. The United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 2499 was chartered in 1947, while the Yukon Teacher’s Association formed in 1955. The UA, or United Association of Allied Workers representing plumbers, pipe fitters and welders established a Yukon presence in 1958 and the Yukon Territorial Public Service Association (YTPSA) formed in 1965. The YTPSA was the first incarnation of what is now the Yukon Employees’ Union, or YEU/PSAC.

This year, YEU and PSAC are bargaining on behalf of members working for Yukon employers large and small. We are up against some serious challenges to the rights we have fought for over the years. Several of our bargaining units have been forced to prove their solidarity through strike votes and strike action. In these anti-union times, it’s not easy to hold on to what we have. We can’t rest on our laurels or believe that everything we have all worked so hard for is secure.

Employers have their own agendas, and it’s up to all of us to keep the pressure on, and protect the rights of Yukons’ workers, unionized or not.

We hope you’ll join us as we celebrate with our 24th annual Free Labour Day Barbeque in Shipyards Park. Each year our activists pull off one of the largest – probably THE largest free public meal in the territory, complete with fun kids’ activities and coffee provided by Midnight Sun Coffee.  We’ll also be collecting your donations for the Whitehorse Food Bank, building our 2nd Annual Mountain of Mac & Cheese! Hope to see you there!

In solidarity,

Steve Geick,

President, Yukon Employees’ Union

A Message from Chris Aylward, PSAC National President

I looked forward to my visit to the Yukon this summer because it gave me another opportunity to meet with members in Whitehorse, Pelly Crossing, Stewart, Carmacks and Dawson. It was great to chat with workers from Wildland Fire Management and to hear the concerns of volunteer community EMS workers. I always learn a lot when I can visit worksites and talk to members on the job.

I attended the KVA Local Y018 AGM – what an active and engaged local! Every position on their Executive went to an election, with three or four nominees named on each ballot. That’s impressive, and encouraging.

Speaking with Parks Canada members at the Dawson and Whitehorse community barbecues was a highlight of my trip, and an important reason I came north this summer. The PSAC is keeping up the pressure on our federal government to pay its workers correctly – every time. We have secured employer compensation for out-of-pocket expenses for things like banking fees or interest charges due to late or missed payments, as well as support for people on disability, maternity, and parental leave.

It’s important for members affected by Phoenix to know what we are doing to support them, and to hold the government to account. Critical to many affected federal workers is the emergency salary advance; an advance is to be made available within 24-48 hours of request by an underpaid worker. Those requests must be made through the employer, but please notify the PSAC to inform us of pay issues experienced by any federal employee in the territory. Please contact me directly at aylwardc@psac-afpc.com, or contact the PSAC’s National Executive Vice President Magalie Picard at picardm@psac-afpc.com

What is happening in Yukon’s Department of Health & Social Services is appalling. This is a department responsible for the well-being and care of children and youth! Their decision to fire whistle-blowers after promising safety illustrates the fact that they cannot be trusted. The dishonesty they displayed shutting down the ISSY office under completely false pretenses can’t be ignored. PSAC and YEU demand that any reports or recommendations arising from the current third party investigation be made public.

YEU has been calling attention to the lack of staffing and support for workers and youth in residential care settings for years, but the department didn’t take action until the press got involved. Now, the issue has gained national attention and the department’s actions are being closely watched around the county. We will continue to monitor the situation alongside Brother Geick and YEU and if needed, we will request federal intervention. If the results of the investigations are not made public, no-one will have any confidence in anything that department says.

Finally, I sincerely hope you will get involved in your union. Be knowledgeable about the issues your co-workers face. I got involved almost 30 years ago when I worked as a member of the Union of Taxation Employees, and I’ve never regretted that decision. It’s one thing to complain, but unless you are willing to be part of the solution, you’re not helping anyone. It’s workers like you who make up the YEU and the PSAC – workers like you who make a difference.

In solidarity,

Chris Aylward, National President
Public Service Alliance of Canada

Welcome to the Next Three Years!

Welcome to the next three years! First of all, I would like to thank the delegates who represented the membership at our recent convention for their faith in my leadership. I heard what you said loud and clear. You want strong representation, fair collective agreements, strong communication and more training.

I pledged to do my best to deliver, and I will do just that. The thing is, I can’t do it alone. To accomplish all those tasks I need the help of many.

Over the last two terms, we have built an amazing team at Yukon Employees’ Union. Our staff is second to none, and it’s largely because of their efforts that so much of the work mandated by the 2014 Convention has been accomplished.

Delegates to the 2017 Triennial Convention have elected a strong Executive, too. I am really looking forward to working with this diverse group, and I’m especially pleased that they represent workers from many Locals, not only the largest.

What can you expect from the new Executive? Top of the list of deliverables will be worksite visits. We are also planning Rand drives – inviting dues paying but unsigned members to sign union cards. Rand drives help strengthen locals, since dues are remitted to the Local based on the number of signed members. Being “in good standing” allows members to fully participate in union business and to access all the benefits of union membership. More and more often we are learning that new hires are not being given union cards to sign by their Human Resources contact, and many don’t have any idea what the union is doing on their behalf. We mean to work on that, starting now.

We know that the challenges to our negotiated contracts are growing in step with national trends. All bargaining units can be assured that YEU is standing with your bargaining team every step of the way. If your collective agreement is due to be renegotiated, you’re in good hands. PSAC provides us with expert negotiators, experienced and strong. Fully resourced teams supported by their members have the resolve to stand firm in the face of ever increasing pressure from employers.

We want to make sure we reach you with our communications. Please take a moment to register to receive updates electronically via email. At present, we have email contact for just over half our members. We will never flood your inbox, and you can always unsubscribe at any time. Visit our website, https://yeu.ca and register for email updates on the home page. Seriously, we can’t grow our ability to communicate with you if you don’t subscribe!

If you’ve signed up for our emails help us out. You all know other Union members; encourage them to subscribe to the digital emails too. If each of you can encourage one friend or co-worker to subscribe, just imagine what we could do! Stay tuned for an announcement: we are planning an interesting little contest, soon to be unveiled.

As president, I hope to work with the new Executive to achieve a lot in the next three years, but I need your help. Please, become involved in your local – you don’t have to hold an elected position. Most Locals participate in community events or initiatives, and they have a budget that consists of a portion of your Union dues. Come out to your local meetings and have a say in how your dollars are spent. Is there an event or cause you want your Local to support? Say so, and then help to get others involved too.

Don’t think your collective agreement is fair? Want to see something different? Come to your bargaining input meetings, learn your collective agreements so you can put forth a proposal. Get elected to your bargaining team.

Consistent feedback over the last decade has been clear; members want education. We are about to begin the process of hiring a full-time education officer. We have commitment from both YFL and PSAC to work with us to provide more Local training.

We have always provided training, but we don’t always see a return on that investment. I hope our new training initiatives result in greater long-term involvement, and members using the training!

What kind of involvement? Well, you could become a shop steward or a training facilitator. Maybe you’re an amazing event planner, or you want to submit a column or article to our newsletter. You could write about labour issues, human rights, or areas you see the union needs to focus on. The point is there are many ways to engage with this vibrant organization, we’re saving a spot for you, in fact!

At the end of the day, I can’t make all of this happen without you. Neither can the YEU staff or the Executive. Together, there is no limit to what we can accomplish. You are the Union and without your involvement we will not succeed.

Questions? Not sure how to do it? Not sure why you should? Call me and we’ll chat.

Steve Geick
867-336-2631
sgeick@yeu.ca

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

 

Bill C-27 and the Threat to Your Pension

egg-in-basketAhhhhh, retirement! You’ll have all the time in the world to do whatever you’ve been dreaming of for years. You’ve planned, you’ve saved and made sure you had your financial ducks in a row before your last day on the job. Thankful for work that offered you a rock solid pension, a deferred payment plan for your post-work years, you’ve contributed for a long time.

Well fasten your seatbelt, friend. Thanks to a new bill introduced by Trudeau’s Finance Minister Bill Morneau, your defined pension plan is not safe… even if you’ve been retired & collecting your pension for years.

Bill C-27 promotes the establishment of target benefit plans – a scheme far inferior to defined benefit plans. If passed, the legislation will permit employers to buy back your defined benefit plan in favour of less expensive (for them) annuities, so long as they have approval from the retiree. And while it seems unlikely that a retiree would agree, if the conditions were right and the pressure was strong, it could happen.

Bill C-27 looms as a real game-changer for Canada’s retirees and workers. For some, the pensions they worked for throughout their working lives are at risk of being fundamentally changed, even after the fact.

I urge you to learn more about Bill C-27. We’ll be in communication with MP Larry Bagnell to ask him to take a stand for all workers, especially those in private federally regulated industries. Many of our members in Yukon stand to be affected by this change, if it goes ahead.

Yukoners from the following Locals will be impacted by this legislative change:

  • Yukon Arts Centre      
  • Yukon College
  • Air North Flight Attendants  
  • Yukon Energy Corporation
  • Yukon Hospital Corporation    
  • Town of Watson Lake
  • City of Dawson            
  • City of Whitehorse

We believe that once the shift is made from defined benefit to target benefit plans, there will be no going back. Few employers will see any need to maintain or sign on to the far superior defined benefit plans.  The erosion of retirement security for Canada’s seniors continues, and with it the erosion of worker rights and the hopes of our young workers for a secure future.  

The Liberal Party did not campaign on allowing employers to pressure workers and retirees into “surrendering” their pension rights. In fact, it signaled to voters  that it would protect these rights. The government has no mandate for this extreme legislation.  

Already, beleaguered workers have begun to shrug their shoulders and say things like “well, we’re just lucky to have any pension at all”. WHY? Pensions are supported by the employer and the employee… part of a contracted benefit package that includes a portion of salary held for later. It’s not a gift, it’s not a luxury and it’s not something you should expect to lose. Solidarity is needed if we hope to defend pensions; we should not be afraid we’ll lose it all if we object.

Workers need to stand together against these constant erosions of your rights now, if we hope to shore up any hope of pension security for young workers at the beginning of their work lives.

If the legislation passes, the precedent will be set and other employers can be expected to quickly follow suit. Join us in calling on Member of Parliament Larry Bagnell to help stop this bill; email Larry.Bagnell@parl.gc.ca.

In solidarity,
steve-geick-signature-dec-2011

Steve Geick, President
Yukon Employees’ Union

Bad Decisions at YG

cropped Steve in black & whiteAre Yukon Government’s Managers and Deputy Ministers intentionally making bad decisions? Maybe it’s a lack of understanding or an information vacuum that makes for face-palm results on critical cases? Either way it frustrates the hell out of me.  It’s YOU, the members we represent, who suffer from some very bad decisions at every level of the grievance process.

I attend many complex representation meetings including policy grievances, 3rd level grievances and arbitration hearings.  This isn’t standard for an elected official of YEU but  I want to observe the process. Poorly considered decisions result in grievances being referred to PSAC for arbitration, lengthening the process & leaving workers in limbo for years.

The cases that go this route include dismissals, lengthy suspensions, human rights complaints and issues of accommodation. The process can drag on, and the uncertainty impacts an individual’s physical and mental well-being & livelihood.

The cases don’t start out terribly complicated, so what happens?  To answer that, we need to look at the first step in a grievance process. This varies by employer but typically starts with an immediate supervisor.  Most of these individuals aren’t trained to solve complex human resource problems – they are intelligent and well-meaning people – but they’re set up for failure by their employer. They are not given the freedom or the tools they need to be successful.

We see good people promoted into supervisory positions because they know the work; they have the knowledge to perform the job but aren’t given labour relations training. It’s not just the supervisors who lack training either – the same is true for all levels of decision makers – Human Resource Advisors, Directors, CEOs and Deputy Ministers.

Accommodating a physical injury is straight forward – an injured worker is usually off work for a short period of time. Upon a return to work, limitations may include how much weight can be lifted or how long the worker may spend at a dedicated task.  Mental health issues, invisible disabilities or addictions also require accommodation, the requirement is entrenched in law.  This is where we encounter a minefield of miscommunication and a lack of understanding.

Supervisors need proper training to have difficult conversations with workers. Without the right skills, sensitive personal information that might inform a supervisor’s decisions can be misunderstood, inappropriately shared or lost in translation.
An attempt at resolution can quickly turn into a performance management issue & rather than achieving an accommodation, struggling workers are disciplined.

By the time someone figures out what needs to be done, all positions are firmly entrenched and the opportunity to problem solve is long past. Few directors, Deputy Ministers or CEOs are willing to rule against those below them; it reflects badly on the organization and frankly, most of the higher ups haven’t received the training needed to know better.

After a few agonizing rounds of bad decisions, a case may end up referred to arbitration, and the people with the knowledge to find a resolution get involved at last. That sounds like a good & positive thing, doesn’t it?  Sadly, very few settlements are actually awarded by an arbitrator’s decision.

Most employers offer to settle prior to the arbitration hearing, or during the proceedings. Why? If an arbitrator makes a decision in favour of the worker, it is precedent setting and becomes part of the public record. A settlement acts as a gag order – instead of public accountability, the matter disappears.

By the time a case reaches this point, the worker involved is often truly suffering either mentally or financially.  While it would be great to stand on principal and hold out for a favorable decision and a culture change, it’s rarely feasible or recommended. Enough is enough and peace of mind comes first.

YEU won’t recommend a member continue a struggle just to achieve a ruling.  Settlement offers are usually enticing enough and the grievor weary enough that they accept the settlement offer and try to rebuild their lives.  Of course, without a binding decision, the employer is free to continue the practices that initiated the grievance process in the first place.

It’s true that not every employee is a model worker.  Management has the right to manage and we respect that right when the employer operates in good faith.  The union is willing to have tough conversations when members seek representation; that’s part of our job and reflects our obligation to the membership at large.

Some supervisors tell us they feel inadequately trained in labour relations and human resources.  If the employer won’t fulfill their obligation, we’ll be glad to step up to help you get what you need.

Congratulations to employers who build strong teams through appropriate training and empowering policies. To the rest of you (and you know who you are) please put aside your pre-conceived notions, prejudices, superiority complexes and whatever else motivates you. Treat Yukoners – our members, with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Non-Profits & Yukon Employees’ Union: A Note from the President’s Desk

Steve new camera

 In the last few years YEU has seen a marked increase in the number of workers employed by non-profit groups who wish to organize their workplaces.
YEU does not have an organizing budget or organizing staff and we don’t go out into workplaces looking to organize them. Workers come to us looking for information, for support and assistance. Sometimes those organic internal organizing drives are successful and we sign a new bargaining unit and sometimes the workers aren’t interested or ready to unionize. Either way we’ve learned a lot from our new non-profit groups.

2015-Executive-Local-Y040

Teegatha’Oh Zheh Bargaining Team

It may seem a bit counter-intuitive to unionize a non-profit. After all, those who work in such organizations often choose to do so because the organization’s goals align closely with their own belief systems.  Few pursue a career in a field populated by non-profits and NGO’s because they expect to make a lot of money; that decision is usually driven by a deeply held conviction or interest. The truth is these organizations often have precarious budgets and suffer from lack of long term financial certainty.

So how on earth does bringing a union into the mix help a precariously funded not for profit organization? Well, there are lots of reasons to unionize and money isn’t always top of the list. In fact it’s almost never the main reason groups decide to organize.

Many of our new smaller units are governed by volunteer boards. A Board of Directors provides oversight and direction to an Executive Director (in some cases), who manages staff. The problems we see often stem from the challenges created when well-meaning directors attempt to make human resource, policy and management decisions without a background in human resources, policy development or NFP management. Decisions made for financial or ideological reasons can impact staff in ways that are unexpected and negative.

Inviting a union in helps to establish a structure that benefits all parties who contribute skill and energy to the function of the NFP. A well-crafted contract ensures the needs of workers and management are met, and roles and expectations are clear. It also creates a fair and predictable workplace – an enormous advantage in what is often an otherwise unpredictable environment. And a secure workplace means less turn over of staff, which is more economical.
Last weekend I attended a Talking Union Basics course. It was exciting to see so many people taking this union fundamentals course and especially rewarding to see members from our newer locals attending union training.

The one thing that stands out for me about our Union is that we are a truly democratic organization. That commitment to democracy is evident from the moment employees decide they want to organize and join YEU; a majority of workers must sign cards to be granted union certification with the federally regulated Canadian Industrial Relations Board. From that moment on,  decisions like what goes into their collective agreement, whether to accept or reject that collective agreement are in the workers’ hands.

 

I want to recognize the workers of Help & Hope for Families, Teegatha ’Oh Zeh and Skookum Jim Emergency After Hours Outreach Services for devoting endless hours to an organizing process that can feel extremely frustrating at times. To you and to those groups quietly working toward union certification, I say congratulations & welcome to YEU.

Steve Geick, President

Yukon Employees’ Union