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

An Open Letter to Mike Nixon, Yukon’s Minister of Health

As a nurse,  I can’t believe your response to issues raised by ourselves and the NDP concerning the Community Nursing branch.  I’m amazed at your lack of understanding of the realities healthcare professionals face in our rural communities and I shake my head at your blasé attitude toward the health & welfare of rural Yukoners.

As Union President, I am now more worried than ever for the health of nurses in the communities who tell us they are struggling and suffering. Whether your recent comments were based on misinformation, naiveté, arrogance or indifference you’ve misrepresented and manipulated the truth.

Let me take a few moments to point out where you’ve missed the mark.

  1. Nurses in communities are leaving their jobs or choosing not to return to Yukon for new contracts. Your response that you’re “working with the YRNA on recruitment & retention” tells me you haven’t done your homework. Have you investigated why there is such a high rate of turnover? Your numbers were wrong as well; 2 nurses have chosen to retire and another 3 have simply given up…quit; not your stated 1 retiree and 1 resignation. Sure, turnover happens but the spike in resignations and retirements with more certain to come should have your alarm bells ringing. Community Nursing is in crisis. In my opinion, morale is the lowest it`s been since the service was devolved from the Federal Government.
  1. Nurses worked alone in rural health centres for 182 days from March until the end of August. In one community, the health nurse worked alone for 52 days over the busy summer tourist season. Yukon is the only jurisdiction in Canada which allows a nurse (and a community) to be placed in that dangerous position. Working alone places nurses at greatly elevated risk of injury, violence and fatigue and increases the odds of error, putting patient safety at risk. No other first responders are expected to work alone; no firefighter, no RCMP, no-one.
  1. You assert that Yukon nurses have never worked alone in a community for longer than five consecutive days; not true. That’s the result of flawed accounting of the true hours worked. The clock stops after five days; weekends aren’t counted–even when nurses work through the weekend-and stat holidays aren’t calculated. And though you may not be counting weekends, you’re certainly paying for them as overtime costs skyrocket.
  1. Although you stated (incorrectly) that YG employs 40 community nurses, your staff corrected that number to 32. In fact, there are only 22.5 staffed nursing positions to serve the needs of rural Yukoners. Although there are 4 “float” positions to act as backup staff, those positions haven’t been filled for years. You tell us there are currently 11 vacant positions; that means the Yukon Government needs to hire 50% more nurses simply to meet its own required staffing levels. That’s not normal turnover; that’s a critical failure to manage operational needs.

Putting the numbers aside, there are problems in Community Nursing that need scrutiny. In my opinion, high turnover in such a critical area indicates serious systemic malfunction.  Prolonged position vacancies, chronic recruitment/ retention problems and the departure of committed long-term employees mean something is wrong. I suggest you take a look at how things are working at Community Nursing and get things fixed before something awful happens.

Our members are talking. They’re talking to each other and they are certainly coming to talk with us. There are real problems in Community Nursing that this letter cannot address. You need to show some leadership and make it possible for these exhausted and under-resourced professionals to continue to provide the high quality care they are trained to provide.

One more suggestion: If you genuinely care about your employees and the health of rural Yukoners, get out from behind your desk. Travel to each health center – I’ll even drive you myself. Have open and honest conversations with the nurses. Allow them to speak freely without fear of reprisal or recrimination. I think you’ll be surprised at what you learn… unless of course you already know but are choosing not to act.

Steve Geick, President, Yukon Employees’ Union, Proud Community Nurse