May 19, 2020 - No. 35

Health Care Workers Continue to Speak Out

Ontario-Wide Protest by Health Care Workers for Protective Equipment and Pandemic Pay for All Frontline Workers

Quebec Nurses Defend Their Right to Speak Out on Issues Vital to
Fighting the Pandemic

Consequences of Ministerial Orders for Quebec Health Workers
- Pierre Soublière
Union Locals Defend the Right of Health and Social Services' Workers to Vacations and Leaves

Serious Concerns of Workers as Construction Sites Reopen in Quebec
Interview with Simon Lévesque, Head of Health and Safety, FTQ-Construction

Locked-Out Workers Continue to Stand Strong
Unjust Lockout of Regina Co-op Refinery Workers Enters Sixth Month
• Landfill Workers in Allardville, New Brunswick Continue to Demand Acceptable Collective Agreement

Health Care Workers Continue to Speak Out

Ontario-Wide Protest by Health Care Workers
for Protective Equipment and Pandemic Pay
for All Frontline Workers

Frontline health workers organized by the Canadian Union of Public Employees' Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE) in hospitals across Ontario staged protests on May 14 to demand personal protective equipment (PPE) and equal treatment for all health providers when it comes to receiving the four dollar per hour "pandemic pay" bonus. The Ontario government deliberately excluded more than half of Ontario's frontline health workers from eligibility for pandemic pay.

Prior to May 14, CUPE health workers staged actions within the institutions demanding adequate PPE but this was the first time workers organized pickets and marches out front of hospitals and along city streets. Actions were held in Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, Lindsay, Milton, Mississauga, Oakville, Oshawa, Ottawa, Peterborough, Sudbury and elsewhere.

Michael Hurley, President of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, explained just how unreasonable it is for the provincial government to exclude many health care workers from receiving the pay bonus. He said they all work as a team, "a team fights COVID-19 and every one of them is at risk" he said.

"All hospital workers are subject, under emergency order, to be redeployed anywhere within the hospital to fight COVID-19 and subject to redeployment to long-term care homes that have the worst COVID-19 outbreaks. Now on top of the anxiety of working with COVID-19 in a climate of very high health care worker infection we have the problem of a morale crisis caused by the government turning its back on the important contribution of the many on the team fighting this virus."

"The list of those excluded from pandemic pay includes half the hospital workforce," Hurley said. Cooks for example are considered essential, but the dietary aides, who deliver meals to COVID-19 patients, are not. Maintenance staff who support the negative pressure rooms are not included, nor are the staff who maintain the air systems or who ensure the building is functional."

"No clerical or administrative staff are included. The ward clerk on the COVID-19 unit or in the ER or the clerical staff in the screening centres or the registration clerks or medical records staff are excluded. Also not included are staff sterilizing ventilators or other medical equipment, those distributing masks and other vital equipment, pharmacy, and lab staff and almost all the technologists."

Tens of thousands of hospital staff are not included in recognition pay. The provincial government has in fact arbitrarily imposed unequal pay by recognizing only some of those engaged in frontline work in health institutions against the pandemic, while excluding others. It's completely arbitrary. "Hospitals only run well on teamwork when all staff are doing their part." CUPE said. "Everyone should be included in the pandemic pay."

OCHU/CUPE has also been calling on the government to immediately deal with the personal protective equipment shortages Ontario is experiencing. Infections among health care workers are very high, particularly in long-term care. At eight deaths and 3,600 health care worker infections, Ontario has one of the highest rates of death and infection in the world. CUPE has consistently called on the province to order General Motors to immediately begin production of the N95 mask in Oshawa, as they are doing in Warren, Michigan.

All health care workers should have access to N95 masks when they are in proximity to a person who may have COVID-19. Health care workers are doing everything in their power to serve the well-being of the public. "All they ask is that all possible steps be taken to keep them, and the people they care for, safe" CUPE said.





Huron Perth; Tri-Towns



(Photos: OCHU/CUPE)

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Quebec Nurses Defend Their Right to Speak Out
on Issues Vital to Fighting the Pandemic

Many photos honouring frontline health care workers are posted to FIQ facebook page.

In its May 16 press release, the Interprofessional Health Care Federation of Quebec (FIQ) severely criticizes the Health and Social Services Minister's announcement that a confidential e-mail has been set up between the ministry and health care workers, who are being encouraged to send messages of denunciation or express their level of satisfaction on the various measures taken in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FIQ writes in its communiqué:

"The Interprofessional Health Care Federation of Quebec -- FIQ is exasperated with the government's flimsy actions in its attempt to have people believe that it is listening to health care professionals. Reacting to the announcement of the setting up of a new e-mail, ironically called "We're Listening to You," the FIQ believes that far from putting an end to the omerta [a mafia code of silence] imposed on the health network, this initiative is aimed at limiting what health care professionals can say in the public arena.

"'Since the beginning of the year, this is the third time the Minister has announced an end to omerta and it means absolutely nothing. The government says it wants news on the ground but it has no respect for the professionals on the ground, it is not listening to them, it is treating them with contempt, it is flouting their rights by way of decrees and is out to find yet another way to silence them,' says FIQ President Nancy Bédard."


"'The Minister says she wants to know precisely where this is taking place. How is it that she doesn't know? Do we really believe that by sending comments to the Ministry that this will trickle down to the establishments and that the problems will be resolved? Will these e-mails be managed like those on the website "I Contribute?" [a government site where people volunteer to help out in health care centres -- the FIQ has often pointed out that it is still awaiting the thousands of volunteers announced who were to come and help out in their work teams -- WF Ed. Note] The end of omerta should mean that health care professionals are finally free to speak out without fear of reprisal, not having an email available to them to silence their denunciations,' states Bédard."

The FIQ recalls that it had set up its own website "Je dénonce," where its members and the public can expose unacceptable situations that occur, which the Minister has access to.

It is asking that instead of setting up an email, the Minister order hospital administrations to cease their disciplinary notices against health professionals who speak out. It is also requesting that the Minister and the government stop proceeding by ministerial decree and orders-in-council and instead, listen to what professionals are saying, negotiate with health care professionals, respect their clinical judgment and provide them with the equipment they require.

In the name of the health emergency, the Government of Quebec is constantly proceeding by ministerial order rather than listening to what the health and social services workers are saying. In particular, it has given itself the power, through ministerial order, to unilaterally amend the collective agreements and working conditions of health and social services personnel. At the heart of this government action is the refusal to recognize the organized struggle and strength of workers, which renders all the more powerful the essential contribution they already make by producing the goods and delivering the services upon which the society depends at all times, as well as during times of crisis, such as at present. That organized character, which allows for the deployment of the human factor/social conscience to sort out problems to the benefit of workers and the society, is seen as an impediment to the full granting of power to narrow private interests and its arbitrary executive bodies.

It is not surprising that the Minister has made it clear that this email measure is part of a broader plan of imposing silence on workers. In the press release announcing the measure, the Minister writes: "This is a first step in a comprehensive effort to better control privacy and public communication practices, including social media. In fact, the Minister of Health and Social Services is planning next fall to table a framework policy that would be applicable throughout Quebec and be accompanied by a mechanism for communicating unresolved issues."

It could not be clearer that the current political authority is attempting to use the crisis of the pandemic to increase its own power at the expense of seeking solutions to problems. Providing those who are actually doing the work and protecting our lives with a say and control in determining what must be done for the well-being of all, is essential to sorting out the problems.

Opposition from the Interprofessional Health Care Federation of Quebec to this Government of Quebec measure is just and legitimate.

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Consequences of Ministerial Orders for
Quebec Health Workers

The Quebec government's Ministerial Orders within an overall state of emergency have given Quebec employers in the health sector a free rein over workers' working conditions. Even before this leeway, employers in seniors' homes, in hospital and health care in general were extremely abusive, some examples being the use of mandatory overtime, staff mobility -- which in itself is proving to be a factor for spreading the virus in various health establishments -- lack of personnel, etc. These are conditions which health workers were denouncing long before the pandemic. The most recent move has been the refusal, in a growing number of workplaces, to allow workers to take their scheduled holidays. In one such establishment, the summer holidays of the entire staff of caregivers were cancelled.

In one case, a nurses' aide's holidays were cancelled at the last minute. She states that if she refuses to work, she can be fined from $1,000 to $6,000. She adds: "We do everything we can to save lives, to keep our residents out of harm's way, to make sure nothing happens to them, but no one looks after us." Concerning this very serious problem of the need for health workers to take some time to rest, Nancy Bédard, President of the Interprofessional Health Care Federation (FIQ), states: "If everything depends on our collective efforts and solidarity to overcome this situation, it's not by wearing out its own workers that the government will achieve this."

The Quebec government must stop considering that workers are expendable. It must acknowledge what the workers have always upheld, that the working conditions of the health workers are the conditions for the safety and health of the people they are caring for. Acting as generals sending unarmed troops as cannon fodder into battle is a thing of the past. It is definitely not the way to deal with problems such as these which call for collaboration with frontline workers who, for their part, are more than willing to cooperate on the basis of their experience and their needs, especially in terms of working in as safe an environment as possible under the circumstances.

What part of this does the government not understand?

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Union Locals Defend the Right of Health and Social Services' Workers to Vacations and Leaves

In an open letter published on May 15, Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) health and social services sector locals in Montreal and Laval warn the Quebec Premier that workers employed in these sectors are entitled to and urgently need their vacations and leaves. They have also placed him on notice not to cancel them through ministerial order. They further point out that sacrificing their vacations and leaves to sort out staff shortages will resolve nothing.

The letter reads:

"Mr. Premier,

"We have been alerted by several of our members concerned over the possibility that a ministerial order may prohibit or restrict their access to vacations. Since March 21, a ministerial decree has been in place that allows, amongst other things, managers in the health and social services network to cancel their staff''s leave and vacations, with some already beginning to proceed in this fashion. However, within the current circumstances in particular, vacations and leaves are an essential need for workers. Day after day, they devote themselves body and soul to their noble vocation. Without them, we will not survive the crisis.

"Many of them were already overworked prior to the pandemic. However, since the start of the crisis they have persevered, despite their exhaustion, in working under extremely difficult conditions, in particular in the Montreal and Laval regions. Many are on the verge of depression; others are considering resigning in light of the magnitude of the task at hand, with many already doing so.

"Sacrificing vacations and leaves to solve the shortage in staff resolves nothing. Far from it -- it risks creating even bigger problems such as the possibility of making fatigue-related errors, burnout, depression, multiple prolonged sick leaves, and even waves of resignations. There is a significant risk that we find ourselves in a situation of even greater staff shortages.

"Workers need these leaves and vacations. Do you want to support those you refer to as guardian angels? Then give them a break and let them regain their strength. All of Quebec society will be grateful to you for doing so."

The letter is signed by ten local union presidents and two CSN officers at the central and regional levels.

(Translated from original French by Workers' Forum)

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Serious Concerns of Workers as Construction Sites Reopen in Quebec

Interview with Simon Lévesque, Head of Health
and Safety, FTQ-Construction

Workers' Forum: On April 28, the Quebec government decreed the reopening of construction sites and manufacturing companies on May 11. Are all construction sites currently open throughout Quebec?

Simon Lévesque: Yes, all construction sectors have been open since May 11. This means almost all construction sites have also reopened, except for a few that have decided not to reopen right away, or that may not reopen at all, probably for economic reasons.

WF: What has come out of this first week of reopening?

SL: My impression is that in the midst of this reopening, there is pressure from employers to go back to business as usual, although the situation calls for changes in the way we work. For example, there is a concern among employers to protect themselves from COVID-19, a legal protection I would say, rather than protection through prevention.

For example, we have a guide for COVID-19 for construction sites, which includes a lot of measures that should be taken.

Among other things, there is the validation of the health status of workers when they arrive on the construction site. The employer must validate the state of health of each of their workers on a daily basis, when they arrive on the site, by asking the following questions: do they have symptoms of COVID-19, are they in contact with someone who has COVID-19, and have they returned from a trip outside the country within the last two weeks? If the answer is yes to any of the questions, the worker must go back and stay home. Obviously, the question of whether they have travelled recently, when it is always the same workers who work on the site, does not really have to be asked every day. What we have observed is that employers, one week after all sectors have reopened, are already saying that they are fed up with doing this validation. They have created a validation form on which workers simply check off their answers, or a small application that can be clicked. They compile the answers and say yes, they have asked the questions. But did they take the time to talk with the workers? They don't have time for that. This is being done mainly to protect themselves legally rather than to engage in social dialogue with the workers. In my opinion, if we do not establish social dialogue in a crisis like this, we will never find it again.

There is also, especially with Premier Legault's current talk about the importance of masks to curb COVID-19, a temptation for employers to find protective equipment that will allow us to work as before, with masks and visors for example, and to relax the requirement for us to maintain a two-metre distance as much as humanly possible. We are in discussions about this with the Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board (CNEEST) and Public Health.

In my opinion, the issue of masks on construction sites is a two-edged sword because the emphasis is on equipment rather than work methods. We maintain that we must continue to work to achieve the two-metre distance, that we must plan the work so that there are maximum preventative measures being taken on construction sites as an integral part of the organization of the work, that we must work on work methods, even if we get masks and visors.

On job sites, projects are behind schedule. Work is being sped up to catch up with the delays, to get back to profitability, etc. Employers are saying that it will cost more to find safer work methods. We were back at work very quickly, with people everywhere, while the unions do not have the prevention mechanisms in place to be effective everywhere and in all areas.

In other words, with this first week of work being resumed we have serious concerns. It will be quite a challenge to get through this crisis and ensure that the work is done safely.

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Locked-Out Workers Continue to Stand Strong 

Unjust Lockout of Regina Co-op Refinery
Workers Enters Sixth Month

Locked-out Co-op workers hold car rally outside Saskatchewan legislature, May, 7, 2020.

Unifor Local 594 members employed by Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) have been locked out since December 5, 2019. The 730 workers were locked out after they voted to reject the company's offer in negotiations and served 48-hour strike notice. The company had been preparing to take this action for months and had built a work camp for scabs that were immediately brought in from outside the province. Production has been continuing with scabs and managers, cut back mid-April due to decreased demand in the conditions of the pandemic.

From the outset the company has relied on the state and police in one attempt after another to diminish the effects of the union's picketing, starting with an injunction in December to limit pickets, constant harassment, and arrests of several workers on the picket lines. Throughout the bitter fight that the workers have waged to defend their right to negotiate acceptable wages and working conditions in the face of the ever-increasing demands of the company that they make concessions on pensions and other conditions that have been negotiated in the past, there has been support from workers in Unifor locals and many other unions from across the country. 

On March 5 the union filed two unfair labour practice applications with the Saskatchewan Labour Board, Unfair Labour Practice -- Industrial Espionage and Unfair Labour Practice -- Surface Bargaining. In the applications the union describes various company actions including following workers to their homes, withholding money owed to them and, with regard to bargaining, merely going through the motions ("surface bargaining") with no actual effort to negotiate a collective agreement. In the course of discussion with the union after the lockout the company has repeatedly brought back concessionary demands that had already been dropped in response to the union's dropping of their proposals. Neither case has yet been heard.

The union requested government intervention and the appointment of a mediator who could issue a report that would be binding and put an end to the dispute. In February mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers were appointed. Following 20 days of discussion with the company and the union, the mediators issued their non-binding report on March 19. Their proposed resolution included changes to the pension plan that would have resulted in millions of dollars being paid into the pension plan from workers' wages. Despite the fact that the mediators' report heavily favoured the company, the workers, within days, voted 98 per cent in favour of it as a means to end the lockout and get back to work. 

The company immediately rejected the report and demanded further concessions. Local 594 President Kevin Bittman reiterated the union's position that it was too late for that, that "[t]he mediators' report was the process that workers and the company agreed to, we ratified it, and it's what Scott Moe needs to enforce." The union has continued to demand that the Saskatchewan Moe government make the mediators' recommendations binding and force the company to end the lockout.

On April 28, Unifor Local 594 members voted 89 per cent against the "best and final offer" that the company has tried to impose since rejecting the mediators' report. A Unifor press release of April 29 quotes Local 594 President Kevin Bittman: "The premier hired the most experienced mediators in the country. The premier should take the next logical step and implement the mediators' recommendations." The workers are continuing to inform and mobilize.

On May 7 more than 300 vehicles rallied at the Saskatchewan legislative building in support of the locked-out workers, including members of local 594 and their families and supporters. The vehicles circled the legislature, honking horns and waving flags and banners and signs. The same day, prevented from meaningful picketing at the CCRL site in Regina, members of Local 594 set up a picket line at the Co-op Bulk Fuel site in Moose Jaw, a location that is not covered by the court order restricting picketing at the refinery. RCMP presence to harass was immediate and the following day, May 8, the RCMP threatened to lay charges of mischief if picketers obstructed people entering or leaving the site. 

Saskatchewan labour lawyer Ronni Nordal described the situation this way: "It appears that as of May 8, 2020 the CCRL (Consumers Co-operative Refinery Limited) can continue its operation with its replacement worker onsite camp while it has been declared illegal for Unifor Local 594 members to exercise any meaningful right to picket. The right to picket in Saskatchewan has been reduced to standing on the side of the road and waving to passersby, unless a driver voluntarily elects to stop and talk to the locked-out workers. The cycle is complete, the law protects the right of the employer to set up a work camp to house replacement workers during a pandemic while using its full force to ensure picketing has no effect on the employer's operations."[1]

The locked-out members of Unifor Local 594 are working full out to mobilize public opinion in support of their just demands, calling for a continuation of the boycott of Co-op, for messages of support to be sent to their facebook page and other actions.

No to Anti-Worker Concessions!
All Out to Support the FCL Regina Refinery Workers!


1. "Right to Picket All But Dead in Saskatchewan: RCMP Moves In to Protect Co-Op in Protracted Lockout," Ronni Nordal, Canadian Law of Work Forum, May 8, 2020

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Landfill Workers in Allardville, New Brunswick Continue to Demand Acceptable
Collective Agreement

Red Pine Landfill workers' picket March 18, 2020, before taking picket line down to comply with COVID-19 health guidelines.

In its press release dated May 4, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) informs that beginning May 13, the 23 workers of the Red Pine Landfill will be entering into their fourth month of a lockout imposed by their employer, the Red Pine Solid Waste Facility in Allardville, New Brunswick. The Facility is operated by the Chaleur Regional Service Commission (CRSC), which is mainly comprised of mayors from the municipalities that make up the Chaleur region in northern New Brunswick.

There is still no end in sight to the lockout, the press release states, as the CRSC refuses to back off from its unacceptable power grab that denies sick leave by demanding that the workers get a doctor's note for the very first day they call in sick. According to the workers, this significantly increases the number of employees who are working while sick. Those employed at the landfill and their union, CUPE Local 4193, have repeatedly requested that the Commission put an end to the lockout during the pandemic and allow the workers back in so that good faith bargaining can begin so that the issue is settled. However they have faced blunt refusal. To its shame, the Commission is actually taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic and the state of emergency decreed by the New Brunswick government on March 19, that has been renewed twice since. Following the provincial government's March 19 emergency pandemic directive, the Allardville landfill workers took down their picket in compliance with the order that prevents them from congregating during the pandemic crisis. This was interpreted by the CRSC as a blank cheque to openly hire more scabs to replace the locked-out workers, who further point out that the employer is using family members and posting student positions for work that belongs to union members.

At this time, besides the injustice committed against them, the landfill workers are also pointing to potential disasters to the environment that the lockout may cause.

"Spring is coming, the ground is thawing, and the landfill is now an environmental time bomb," said CUPE Local 4193 President Serge Plourde, in a press release dated May 5.

Among the locked-out employees is an environmental technologist who is seriously concerned about the situation. "Are water treatment testing practices regularly and meticulously performed by competent and experienced personnel who are familiar with the reality of the landfill site? "asks Yvon Richard, the technologist at the plant.

"It's only a matter of time, in the event of a failure to test, a very rainy spring, to see contaminated spills in the Nepisiguit River," Richard adds.

In the face of this unacceptable situation, CUPE is renewing its call to all  its organizations and locals across the country to help the CUPE 4193 workers in their pursuit of an immediate end to the lockout and the signing of a collective agreement that they deem acceptable, by sending letters of support and financial contributions to them. In visiting the President of CUPE 4193's facebook page, one can see the large number of CUPE organizations and locals from across the country that are contributing financial support to the locked-out workers. Other unions are also providing financial assistance to these workers, such as the New Brunswick Nurses Union and the Eastern Provinces Council of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Financial support can be sent to CUPE Local 4193, to the attention of Serge Plourde, President, 4246 Road 134, Allardville, New Brunswick, E8L 1H2.

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