Union scores WIN for worker safety!

decision-tss2Yukon Employees’ Union has been raising concerns about working conditions for Residential Care Workers (RCWs) in the Yukon Government group homes since at least 2015. These workers face numerous risks in the normal course of their duties, and are regularly expected to work alone.  They provide a home environment for youth and young children, often with extraordinary emotional needs who can, at times, become aggressive or violent.  The workers must deal with a wide range of emergency situations that can involve medical needs or missing children.  Occasionally, staff must handle several challenging or emergency situations at the same time. 

When a RCW is on duty as the sole adult caregiver in a home with unpredictable youth, they are assured that support is only a phone call away. Of course, the response time for urgent support depends on how far away other available staff members might be.  Relying on on-call support does not sufficiently protect our members or residents in the group homes.

At a September press conference about youth in care, Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost and Deputy Minister Stephen Samis assured the press  that no workers in youth care facilities would ever work alone. That proved not to be the case, and the practice continued unchanged throughout the fall and winter.

Finally, after years of union advocacy and intervention, the Public Service Commissioner has ruled in favour of worker safety and against solo staffing.

On January 24, 2018 YEU filed a policy grievance asserting that the Yukon Government was “not making all reasonable provisions for the safety and health of employees in Transitional Support Services (TSS), in violation of Article 32.01.”  Some progress was made toward resolving this grievance informally, but ultimately we could not agree. The employer’s practice of frequently deciding not to backfill vacancies, resulting in single staffed homes continued, and was unsafe in the view of the union. 

We brought the grievance to a hearing with the Public Service Commissioner on November 8, 2018 to argue our case, and received a decision on December 10, 2018.  The decision reads, in part, “… on balance I am persuaded that the better interpretation of Article 32.01 is that the requirement to make all provisions for the occupational safety and health of employees requires TSS to backfill vacant RCW shifts, if there is staff available for this purpose (regardless of whether it results in overtime), in circumstances where not backfilling would mean that a RCW is working alone in a group home.”

Residential Care Workers no longer need to worry that they might end up working a shift alone.   This is a significant promise of greater protection of psychological well-being and physical safety in the workplace, and a real positive gain by the union on behalf of these workers and residents.

 

YEU @ #PSAC2018 – DAY 2

Monday April 30 was a very important day at the 18th Triennial Convention of the PSAC. Revered Senator Murray Sinclair, past chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was keynote speaker. He spoke of painful issues with great dignity and gentle humour, sharing his insights into the reality of life for many indigenous people. Generations of residential schools, racists policies and systemic discrimination worked to eradicate indigenous culture and any sense of cultural identity or pride. The damage done by over 100 years of this genocide impacts all of us even now, and was spoken to very powerfully by indigenous delegates who bravely shared their stories.

A multi-media performance entitled No More Stolen Sisters employed video, music and dance to honour the Murdered and Missing Indigenous wives, daughters, mothers and sisters lost forever.

 

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

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

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