March 27, 2020

Workers Report from the Provinces


The Reversal of All Privatization Schemes Is in Order - Peggy Morton

New Brunswick

Workers Locked Out Despite Emergency
Unacceptable Anti-Worker Actions of Ruling Elites - Pierre Chénier

Nova Scotia
Situation Underscores the Necessity for the Leadership and Voice of the Working People at All Times - K.C. Adams
Dealing with Issues Facing Public and Private Sector Workers - Jason MacLean


The Reversal of All Privatization Schemes Is in Order

Across the country, labs with facilities to test for COVID-19 are overwhelmed. Both the speed of results and the scope of testing are far below what is needed, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and proven effective in countries like China, south Korea and Singapore. This is the case right across Canada and shows the need for significant expansion of public health laboratories.

Instead of expanding and further developing the potential of the public labs, the United Conservative Party (UCP) government in Alberta is intent on handing them over to private interests, almost certainly a global laboratory monopoly. This is not evident behind the talk of Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw who has given high praise to the staff of the public medical lab system in Alberta, Precision Labs, crediting the public labs for the fact that Alberta had completed more COVID-19 tests than any other province.

"That's been possible due to existing infrastructure, the early availability of testing kits, collaboration with universities and a testing process that runs around the clock," Dr. Hinshaw said. She further stated, "One of the advantages we have in Alberta is our provincial lab for public health, which is in the Alberta Precision Laboratories." All COVID-19 related tests have been sent to the public provincial labs for analysis.

The UCP halted construction and cancelled the new public medical "superlab" in Edmonton immediately on coming to power in 2019, despite the clear evidence of the need for the facility. The Edmonton "superlab" would have extended public control across Alberta.

Then in November 2019, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) was served notice by Alberta Precision Labs, which is owned by Alberta Health Services, that it "is seeking interest from private third-parties to take over parts of lab services in Alberta."

This would affect 850 full-time equivalent positions (FTEs), HSAA informed. Thousands of support staff in environmental services (cleaning), food services and laundry are also threatened with the loss
of their jobs to contracting out. Alberta Health Services has also given notice to the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) that it intends to lay off hundreds of nurses, and notified HSAA that it is considering
privatizing ambulance services across Alberta.

HSAA President Mike Parker told Workers' Forum that "when you lose control of your public sector health care and need to 'negotiate' increased or additional services, it impacts care. I will reference the current situation in the U.S. where hospitals are negotiating for increased compensation to continue treatment."

This has been clearly demonstrated in Alberta. All labs including hospital labs, with one exception at the University of Alberta Hospital, were privatized in 1997. The 1997 privatization of hospital labs was later quietly reversed by the Canada Health Act, and the lab system serving Calgary and southern Alberta returned to the control of Alberta Health Services. No accounting of the disaster of privatization has ever been publicly made. What is known is that there was fierce opposition from those working in the labs to the degradation of lab services, including concerns about the private contractor organizing the work in a manner that disregarded expertise and prioritizing work that was the most lucrative instead of according to urgency and patient need. It is outrageous that the government will now reintroduce the same failed, anti-social schemes, based on the self-serving recommendations of the monopoly Ernst & Young, which directly profits from privatization schemes, and a hand-picked panel of neo-liberal hacks who produced the MacKinnon Report on Alberta's finances.

The refusal to stop paying the rich and increase investments in social programs has created the current situation where a health care system already working at over-capacity and where workers experience unsustainable workloads is now faced with the COVID-19 crisis. Health care workers are showing what they are made of, while the financial oligarchy and its representatives are obsessed with self-serving schemes to benefit from the crisis. The Kenney government clearly intends to continue on this path of destruction, while organizing pay-the-rich schemes to funnel state funds into the coffers of the energy oligarchs.

The reversal of all privatization schemes is in order, including ambulance services, hospital housekeeping, food and other hospital services. Public services must be expanded and public enterprises developed. All layoff notices and planned staff reductions must be immediately cancelled, and temporary workers who have been laid off, such as the large numbers in child and family services, be immediately rehired.

Instead of handing over billions to the banks, energy and other oligarchs, investments should be directed to public enterprises, including the construction of the new public medical lab needed in Alberta. Alberta has much expertise in medical research at the University of Alberta and elsewhere. Immediate development of a Canadian publicly owned and controlled pharmaceutical industry is also a priority so that instead of the added-value created by medical researchers, laboratory workers and professionals being seized by private interests and mainly removed from the economy, it can be reinvested in expansion of health care, long-term care and other public services. People can empower themselves by demanding these investments be made. Health care workers and professionals who actually know what is needed must be the ones who say what is needed. Pro-social measures are needed to resolve the crisis in a manner which favours the people, not the rich.

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New Brunswick

Workers Locked Out Despite Emergency

Locked-out CUPE Local 4193 workers and supporters rally before dispersing to respect COVID-19
distancing regulations, Allardville, March 18, 2020. (CUPE Local 4193)

CUPE New Brunswick informs from Allardville on March 20 that despite a provincial state of emergency, the Chaleur Regional Service Commission (CRSC) directors are still refusing to let the Red Pine landfill workers come back to work.

"On Tuesday [March 17], we asked the employer to pause their lockout during the COVID-19 crisis. They refused," said Serge Plourde, President of CUPE Local 4193.

The 23 workers have been locked-out since February because CRSC management wants more power to deny sick leave to workers.

"They say doctors' notes are required on the first day you call in sick. Top medical experts have all denounced such policies. Why? Because it seriously increases the number of employees working sick," said Robert LeMoignan, CUPE Servicing Representative.

"The whole world is doing all it can to fight the pandemic. Meanwhile, the CRSC wants to force work policies that aggravate the crisis!" said LeMoignan.

After the province declared a state of emergency on March 19, CRSC management posted six new "scab" job openings online.

"At least three replacement workers [each paid over $15 an hour more than regular workers] are on site. The directors are also paying $300 an hour for the services of an anti-union lawyer from Fredericton," said LeMoignan.

"They are noticing our members' experience is necessary to run the site, but they still want to break us. We should be back at work during this crisis. It's not a time to fool around," said Plourde.

"These directors -- Dayna Carroll and Jocelyne Hachey -- have lost all credibility. Their refusal to pause the lockout, during a state of emergency, is making the Chaleur area mayors look like complete fools," said LeMoignan.

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Unacceptable Anti-Worker Actions of Ruling Elites

Workers' Forum has received reports from northern and southern New Brunswick that ruling elites in the province are using the COVID-19 pandemic to escalate their attacks on the working class.

Allardville Landfill Workers

In the Chaleur Region in the north, the Chaleur Regional Service Commission (CRSC) locked out 23 Allardville landfill workers on February 12. They are members of CUPE Local 4193. From the beginning of the lockout, the CRSC has hired scabs to cross the picket line and even received a court order to limit the number of picketers at any time to six.

In response to this attack on their rights, the CUPE members and supporters of the 23 locked-out workers have taken their struggle to the community and have received a great response and support. CUPE Local 4193 held a rally in Belledune on March 12, where strong community support was shown for the locked-out workers. Following the rally, CUPE presented the Deputy Mayor of Belledune with a petition signed by 1,200 community members from across the region calling for an end to the lockout.

The workers say that before the pandemic emergency they had been going door to door in the region to explain the situation facing the landfill workers. CUPE reports the community expressed strong opposition to the lockout, in particular to the use of scabs, which people feel is unjust and uses the unemployed in the region in a spiteful way to split the people and attack particular workers. The petition is available here.

Following a provincial government emergency pandemic directive on March 19, the Allardville landfill workers took down their picket in compliance with the order not to congregate during the COVID-19 crisis. Immediately upon the declaration of the New Brunswick emergency and removal of the picket, the CRSC posted a new notice on its website to hire more scabs to replace the positions held by locked-out CUPE Local 4193 members at wages well above what workers receive under their collective agreement.

Sandy Harding, CUPE Maritimes Regional Director, told the media that she was "disgusted" that the Chaleur regional government would use the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to escalate their use of scabs to replace CUPE workers. "This is truly a shameful situation," she said. "We reached out to the employer and respectfully asked them to pause the lockout during this crisis situation and they quickly refused. We then asked them to bargain (virtually) so that we could come to some resolution and allow these workers the respect they deserve; but the employer's representative doesn't really want to talk unless the local agrees to concessions on sick notes and Union leave language. I am disgusted by this whole situation and my heart goes out to the strong workers who are simply standing up for collective agreement language they already have."

CUPE Local 4193 President Serge Plourde, a labourer at the landfill, spoke to the media after seeing his job advertised by the CRSC. Plourde says the 23 members locked-out of their worksite are being treated like the garbage sent to the landfill by the CRSC, whose board members are the mayors of Belledune, Bathurst, Petit-Rocher, Pointe-Verte, Beresford, Nigadoo and four Local Service District representatives of the provincial government.

In the face of the pandemic, the locked-out workers had agreed to return to their jobs and reopen the landfill if the CRSC would resume negotiations for an acceptable collective agreement. The CRSC bluntly refused to agree and instead reintroduced demands already settled and insisted workers accept the employer's demands, including the one forcing workers to provide a doctor's note when off sick even for one day and to limit the number of unpaid union leave days taken by worker representatives.

In rejecting the workers' offer to return to work, the CRSC also said it had appointed a new negotiator from Fredericton who only speaks and reads English. The union team's lead negotiator, Robert LeMoignan, CUPE National Representative, told the media this manoeuvre underscores the employer's dictatorial behaviour and lack of respect for the workers, as the Chaleur region is mostly French-speaking and the proposals from both sides are all in French and the CUPE team is comprised of francophones. In addition, the CRSC appears to have hardened its positions, given the landfill will be operated by scabs, and refuses to even admit that some issues have already been settled.

City of Saint John Outside Workers

In southern New Brunswick, the City of Saint John is intensifying pressure on outside workers using COVID-19 as the rationale. The municipal government bargaining team has been demanding that CUPE Local 18, the city's outside workers, accept a wage freeze. NB Media Co-op reports Saint John Mayor Don Darling wrote on his blog on March 19 that given the COVID-19 situation, he will not support any raises with unionized labour. The mayor pompously declared that he will reject any raises, bonuses or barriers in any new agreement with workers and he expects councillors to support his position. The mayor's anti-worker stance reflects his position as representative of the powerful financial oligarchy in New Brunswick and in particular the owners of the two dominant companies in the city, the Irving Oil refinery and the J.D. Irving pulp and paper company.

CUPE's Brien Watson told NB Media Co-op that he is very concerned about Mayor Darling's suggestion that all the municipal workers should have their wages frozen for four years because municipal sector wages have fallen so far behind the rising cost of living.

The workers' claims are just and these attacks on them must stop. Shame on the Chaleur Regional Service Commission and the Mayor of Saint John. The use of positions of privilege and power to impose self-serving positions is to be condemned. It is totally out of sync with the requirements of the times and in contempt of the culture of respect for working people Canada requires. Only after the needs of the working people are looked after can other problems be sorted out.

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Nova Scotia

Situation Underscores the Necessity
for the Leadership and Voice of the
Working People at All Times

The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) is the largest union in the province of Nova Scotia, representing the individual and collective interests of over 30,000 public and private sector employees. NSGEU members work in the civil service, centres of education, universities, hospitals, liquor stores, correctional facilities, municipalities, and other organizations across the province.

In recent years, the NSGEU has been resisting the attacks of the McNeil Liberal Party government in power which has unleashed assault after assault on workers' right to bargain collectively for wages and working conditions acceptable to themselves. The working conditions of NSGEU workers in many cases have a direct effect on the conditions of the people they serve.

The Liberal Party in power has passed laws declaring home care workers and nurses essential to the health of the province yet has denied these essential workers the right to decide their working conditions and wages and what they require to perform their work properly. This contradiction has carried over into the current COVID-19 crisis where the government continues to deny public health care workers a leading role and voice in organizing to defeat the pandemic. Without mobilizing and unleashing the initiative and power of the working class, the fight against the pandemic is seriously undermined and weakened.

The history of depriving the health care sector of the leadership and voice of the working class has created a crisis with staffing shortages and escalating wait times even before the onset of the pandemic. The NSGEU has published reports with clear solutions reflecting the views of health care workers from the front lines but the government continues to suppress the rights and voice of the people who do the work.

The NSGEU writes on its website of decades of cuts to the civil service having a negative impact on its members working in community services, child welfare, corrections, and courthouses. Occupational health and safety are top of mind. The COVID-19 pandemic reveals in a stark way the folly of weakening the health sector, social programs and public services. The anti-social offensive must be reversed with increased investments in social programs and public services. For the sake of all the people, the province and society, the working class must present its views on what is needed in its own loud voice and not be silent in the face of the anti-social measures of cartel party governments and employers. The modern world cannot function and solve its problems without the organized leadership and voice of the working people.

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Dealing with Issues Facing Public
and Private Sector Workers

Jason MacLean is President of the Nova Scotia Government Employees and General Workers Union.

I am in constant contact with people from the Department of Health and Wellness. We are giving our members' perspective on how things are affecting the workplace and what should be done. They are receptive and we are working well together.

There are issues that came up in our workplaces such as the need to have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), to organize for people to work from home, to make sure that workers who are put on 14 days quarantine leave are getting paid.

There is a huge issue coming up with childcare. All schools and all daycares have been shut down. Last week was not such a big issue because it was March break but now March break is over and the schools are still closed. There are no daycares. A lot of our members still have to go to work but they have child care issues. Some employers are saying to our members if you do not have childcare, work it out with your managers and if you can't work it out, use your own lieu time, your banked time or your vacation time. Workers should not have to deplete their own bank accounts because of the pandemic. This is something we are trying to have addressed by the government and it is a huge issue across all sectors.

As far as PPE is concerned, we are still in the midst of it. For instance, in home care, we are reaching out to our providers and asking them what PPE are you providing for the people. They are saying that they are providing the proper PPE but they are not telling us what it is. We need answers to this. Our home care workers do not have gloves, shields, masks or gowns. Some providers have them but others don't. Our members are going from one workplace, which is somebody's home, to another workplace which is somebody's home. They have to have proper protection.

We know we are going to get hit worse, but the measures that are being put in place are going to help us to get through this crisis. We all have to work for the well-being of all the people in Nova Scotia.

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