August 6, 2020 - No. 53

Developments on the Health Care Front

Health Care Unions' Actions to Ensure Workers Are Protected 

• Quebec Health Care Unions Demand Government Enforce Increased Protective Measures
Frontline Health Care Unions in Ontario Launch "Care Not Profit" Campaign
Public Health Ontario Data Reveals Devastating Pandemic Effects for Health Care Workers - Unifor
Ontario Nurses Step Up Actions Against Bills 195 and 124
Nova Scotia Union Refuses to Participate in the Provincial Government's Secretive Northwood Review

New Brunswick Landfill Workers
Workers' Persistence in Defence of Rights Prevails! Congratulations!

Developments on the Health Care Front

Quebec Health Care Unions Demand Government Enforce Increased Protective Measures

In a July 23 press release, Quebec's Federation of Health and Social Services (FSSS-CSN) announced that unions belonging to the Federation have filed complaints with the provincial Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board (CNESST) demanding an increase in protection measures for workers in the health and social services network in anticipation of a second wave of COVID-19.

The complaints ask the CNESST to force employers to apply the precautionary principle and to issue the necessary corrective notices to ensure that adequate personal protective equipment is provided and that preventive measures are established.[1] The unions say that both the PPE and preventive measures must be those required for the possible airborne transmission of COVID-19 until such time as there is scientific consensus on the mode of transmission. The unions argue that the use of respiratory protective equipment, such as the N-95 mask, should be encouraged for all network personnel.

"Time is passing and it is very worrisome to note that neither CNESST, public health nor the government are announcing concrete changes to ensure better protection of personnel in the face of a second wave. It does not take a genius to realize that we failed in the first wave. More and more scientific studies are pointing to the possibility of airborne transmission of the virus. We are filing complaints to ensure that CNESST takes action and plays its role in ensuring the safety of workers in the network," writes Federation President Jeff Begley.

The press release points out that the World Health Organization (WHO) recently confirmed the risk of airborne spread of the virus, based on studies by more than 200 researchers from several countries around the world. The FSSS points out that there is a growing number of studies that show that the virus is transmitted not only by the large droplets emitted by coughing and sneezing, but also by microscopic droplets that are released into the air when we breathe or speak. These microscopic droplets are so light that they remain suspended in the air for a long time, putting people who are not properly protected at risk.

The president of the federation writes that the protective equipment currently provided to network staff does not protect them from the risk of airborne transmission of the virus. He says that the situation must be corrected now, in anticipation of a second wave of the pandemic.

The FSSS points out that the unions took the decision to file these complaints following the unsatisfactory responses given by employers when the unions proposed to work jointly with employers to shed light on the failures experienced during the first wave and to put in place the changes needed to ensure the protection of workers in the face of a second wave. The FSSS reports that to date more than 13,600 health care workers in Quebec have been infected with the virus.


1. The global Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak between 2002 and 2005 caused the deaths of more than 40 health care workers in Ontario. In Canada there were 438 probable and suspect cases. Following the tragedy of SARS the Ontario government appointed a Commission to review the outbreak. The Commission recommended that the precautionary principle guide the practice of health care institutions to protect workers and the public in cases of serious threats to public health. The precautionary principle was described as follows by the Commission: "where there is reasonable evidence of an impending threat to public harm, it is inappropriate to require proof of causation beyond a reasonable doubt before taking steps to avert the threat. Reasonable efforts to reduce risk need not await scientific proof."


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Frontline Health Care Unions in Ontario Launch "Care Not Profit" Campaign

On July 23, the Service Employees International Union Healthcare (SEIU Healthcare), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and Unifor, representing frontline health care workers in Ontario, held a joint press conference to launch their campaign "Care Not Profit." The online press conference was watched by more than 19,000 viewers. After 1,800 deaths in long-term care during the COVID-19 pandemic, this campaign calls on the people of Ontario to demand fundamental changes in the health care sector.

Sharleen Stewart, President of SEIU Healthcare, began the press conference by saying that in the midst of the worst crisis our long-term care sector has seen in decades, we have seen for-profit companies choose money for their shareholders over better care for seniors. "That is money," she said, "that should have gone for better wages for low paid workers, more full time employment and higher staffing levels, more PPE, air-conditioning for residents, and improved infectious disease protocols. As we know, that did not happen." We know companies like Extendicare, Chartwell and Revera put profits before care, she said, and "government should take these companies out of the care sector."

Candace Rennick, Treasurer of CUPE Ontario followed. She explained that she started working on the front lines in a long-term care facility when she was 16 years old. "Since then," she said, "I have lived the rapid deterioration of a system that is meant to provide dignified care to our loved ones in their final days. I have this experience as a worker, but also as a daughter, because my father died in a long-term care facility. For years our unions and other long-term care activists have been calling on successive governments to step up but the cries of frontline workers, residents and families have been regularly dismissed.

"Governments have known about this situation and they have failed to respond. We need staffing improvements. We need accountability and we need a commitment from this government that change will happen, that conditions will be improved, put in place through proper regulation, proper inspection and adequate funding.

"Every single public dollar put into long-term care," she said, "must be used to enhance the quality of life for residents and the working conditions of the staff. That means putting an end to for profit care. It is not enough anymore for us to be angered or saddened by the state of our long-term care system. Each and every one of us must take action to demand that this government put an end to for-profit in a system in which our loved ones are living and dying without their dignity."

Jerry Dias, President of Unifor said his union, like SEIU Healthcare and CUPE, has been sounding the alarm over long-term care for more than a decade, long before the pandemic started.

"A personal support worker has six minutes on average to provide morning care for residents. Six minutes! Far less than those residents deserve.

"Workers were already struggling under increasing demands when the pandemic hit. Yet they were just not able to do what was needed within a system that had failed. As COVID-19 spread every one of us has been horrified and ashamed by what has happened in our long-term care homes. Let me say unequivocally that the workers we represent are exceptional. In the cases of severe outbreaks, many of them worked until exhaustion. Many of them became sick and sadly, we know that 8 personal support workers died from COVID-19.

"Of the 15 long-term care homes with the highest number of deaths, 13 of them were for-profit. This isn't coincidental. No one should make a profit off misfortune and suffering. Never Again!"

During the press conference the unions screened a video to honour seniors who have died in long-term care facilities due to COVID-19 and as a tribute to the dedication of frontline health care workers. The video can be viewed and shared from the website or on Facebook

Immediate Actions Demanded from Ontario Premier

On July 30, the same unions issued the joint statement below following the release of Ontario's long-term care staffing study which was launched by the Ministry of Long-Term Care in February 2020. The statement reads:

"Today the provincial government received yet another recommendations report on what we've already known for years. It's time for transformational funding commitments and rigorous implementation timelines to ensure healthcare workers receive the support they need to deliver quality care for our most vulnerable. Unfortunately, Premier Ford's government has yet to take steps towards funding an action plan to improve the delivery of long-term care. All three unions have long been advocating for a legislated care standard of four hours per resident per day and are urging the government to take immediate steps to pass that into law.

"We are pleased that the report echoes our recommendation for a minimum daily average of four hours of direct care per resident, based on hours worked, not hours paid. The next step is ensuring that this has teeth by becoming legislated.

"There are constructive, actionable steps that Premier Ford should take now to improve the system:

Ensure that workers are paid at a rate commensurate with their significant contributions;

Eliminate Bill 124's adverse impacts on worker retention;

Reverse the previously eliminated paid sick leave;

Revise transfer payment agreements with operators to mandate more full-time jobs; and

Include unions, families and worker advocates in all policy implementation tables.

"Frontline healthcare workers are real heroes who have for too-long been exploited by a system that puts profits before care. They need support now, before the fall flu season and before a subsequent spike in COVID-19.

"As we all know, long-term care staffing was in crisis prior to the spread of COVID-19, but it's now on life support after the crushing impacts of the pandemic. Enough talk. We need bold action now."

(Photos: SEIU, CUPE, Unifor)

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Public Health Ontario Data Reveals Devastating Pandemic Effects for Health Care Workers

Provincial COVID-19 data released by Public Health Ontario shows the cost of years of ignoring health workers' demands, and the risks of continued inaction.[1]

Health care workers were severely overrepresented in the data, representing more than 17 per cent of all cases, with 5,800 positive cases and 13 deaths between January 15, 2020 to June 22, 2020.

"Ontario's healthcare system is a dangerous place to work, far beyond what is reasonable," said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. "The risk to the health of workers across the system, and specifically in long-term care, can be fixed if the Ford Government makes the systemic changes that workers have demanded for years."

More than 38 per cent of COVID-19 cases among health care workers are workers in the long-term care sector. While the data indicates only 302 cases were personal support workers, Public Health Ontario only started collecting data on that classification on May 29, 2020, months after the pandemic began. Many other classifications of workers who work in close proximity of COVID-19 patients, like porters, housekeepers, technicians and technologists, and unit clerks are not tracked at all, referred to only as "unspecified HCW occupation."

"Receiving this data months into the pandemic while there is still no comprehensive plan from the government to repair our broken health care sector is an insult to frontline workers whom the Premier has repeatedly called heroes," said Naureen Rizvi, Unifor Ontario Regional Director. "We have known for years that Ontario has a long-term care staffing crisis, and that cuts have left health care services over-crowded and at risk. This data shows the devastating effects of those choices."

Recent announcements from the Ontario Government have failed to provide any real solutions for the issues raised by frontline workers, including those in the Unifor and Ontario Health Coalition December 2019 report Caring in Crisis: Ontario's Long-Term Care PSW Shortage.[2]

Instead, the Ford Government continued to push most of the public money for long-term care beds to for-profit operators, hasn't addressed the staffing shortage, but has imposed a cap wage of 1 per cent across the broader public service, and is extending the emergency orders for health care workers for up to a full year under Bill 195.

"Premier Ford must improve safety, wages and all working conditions in long-term care now, to bring workers back to the sector," continued Dias. "Instead, his government is making an already difficult job harder with Bill 195 set to wreak havoc on frontline workers' schedules, vacation and even their ability to earn their pre-pandemic wages as it pertains to having more than one workplace."

Adding insult to injury, pandemic pay for frontline health care workers is scheduled to end in August. Many have yet to receive the pay promised almost three months ago, and many more are excluded altogether.[3]

"Nothing that is happening right now leads me to believe that we are at all prepared for a second wave of this pandemic," said Dias. "Now is the time to rebuild Ontario's public health care system. Unifor, and Ontario's health care workers are fully prepared to participate in implementing the real solutions that patients and workers need."


1. View the data here

2. View the report here

3. See "Pandemic Pay for Unifor Health Care Workers."

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Ontario Nurses Step Up Actions
Against Bills 195 and 124

Stop Bills 124 and 195!


Ontario nurses are stepping up actions demanding the repeal of Bills 124 and 195. Bill 124, passed by the Ontario government on November 8, 2019, limits total compensation, including wage increases, for public sector workers to one per cent per year. Bill 195, passed on July 21, allows the government to extend emergency powers that override existing legislation, regulations, by-laws and collective agreements, including those negotiated by nurses and health-care professionals. The Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) has vowed to step up actions until these laws are repealed. 


The day after Bill 195 was passed, on July 22, nurses and supporters including teachers rallied at the constituency office of Ottawa West-Nepean MPP Jeremy Roberts against Bills 124 and 195. Other actions took place at MPPs' offices in several cities in the following days.


Nurses from St. Mary's General Hospital in Elmira rallied at Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris' office on July 24 calling for Bills 124 and 195 to be repealed.


Whitby nurses, colleagues and friends also held a rally on July 24 from 11 am to 2:00 pm in front of MPP Lorne Coe's Whitby constituency office.


Another rally was held by ONA Local 83 on July 29 at Carleton MPP Goldie Ghamari's office.

(Photos: ONA, CUPE)

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Nova Scotia Union Refuses to Participate in
the Provincial Government's Secretive
Northwood Review

In a press release dated July 30, the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) announced that due to the secretive nature of the Northwood review, NSGEU President Jason MacLean has decided not to take part in the process. Northwood Manor is a huge facility in Halifax, with close to 600 residents and over 400 workers caring for them, where 53 residents died this spring of COVID-19. Hundreds of residents and workers were also infected. At the end of June, the Nova Scotia government announced that it is conducting a review of the COVID-19 death toll at this long-term care home for seniors. NSGEU members, who do not normally work at Northwood Manor, were redeployed there during the height of the pandemic, by ministerial order.

"The Northwood review process announced on June 30th restricts anyone who appears before the committee from sharing that same information publicly, and threatens them with risk of fines and prison time," says the NSGEU President in the press release. At the end of July, MacLean was invited to speak with members of the review committee about NSGEU members' experience working at Northwood during the first wave of COVID-19. Just hours before that meeting, the NSGEU received an email from a committee staff person stating that, "Any quality improvement information, is protected from disclosure under the Quality Improvement Information Protection Act." This means that any information provided to the committee immediately becomes a secret and cannot be made public in any form, not even through the province's Freedom of Information Act. A person releasing information is subject to a maximum fine of $10,000 and up to six months in prison.

"The NSGEU accepted the invitation to work with the review committee so we could share the experiences of our members. The NSGEU stands with the 53 families who lost loved ones during the first wave of the COVID pandemic," says MacLean. "We strongly believe that the public interest is best served by holding a public inquiry, fully disclosing all information, so the families, seniors, staff and Nova Scotians get the answers they deserve." In light of the secrecy surrounding the current review process, the press release says, the NSGEU President made the decision not to speak to the committee. NSGEU is also renewing its call for Premier Stephen McNeil to launch a full public inquiry into the deaths of the 53 residents at Northwood this spring.

NSGEU Releases Its Own Report on the Northwood Disaster

On August 4, NSGEU released a report chronicling what it calls government neglect and delay that contributed to the tragedy at Northwood Manor.[1] The report, entitled Neglecting Northwood, uses internal documents obtained from the Nova Scotia Health Authority and Department of Health and Wellness through the province's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The report also includes information gathered from NSGEU members who were deployed to Northwood during the outbreak. The report comes with an 840-page Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPOP) document that includes the records, documents and communications related to the COVID-19 outbreak at Northwood Manor.

The report Neglecting Northwood details key decisions which, according to NSGEU, put the staff and residents at risk. Those include:

- Years of government cuts to long term care facilities without understanding the risks this created for the health and safety of those who live and work there;

- Dismissing infection control concerns raised by Northwood and refusing to fund proposals that would have eliminated the practice of double and triple bunking;

- Delaying the use of Personal Protective Equipment, such as masks, in Northwood even though British Columbia implemented the safety practices in their long-term care facilities three weeks earlier; and

- Not responding quickly enough once the first case of COVID was identified in the facility. 

"This report only scratches the surface of what happened in Northwood. It raises many more questions than it can answer," writes MacLean in the union's press release dated August 4. "Hiding mistakes means we can't learn from them. Stephen McNeil must show leadership and give the staff, residents and families what they deserve -- a full public inquiry. Anything less is unacceptable."

Provocative Response from Nova Scotia Premier
to People's Concerns

The Nova Scotia government is insisting that it is not going to hold a public inquiry on the deaths and overall situation in long-term care facilities in the province, although that is what has been requested by health care workers, families of residents and the public. Following this review, which is being carried out by a Quality-Improvement Committee comprised of two appointed members, the government of Nova Scotia will publicly release only the recommendations that come out of the panel's investigation, not the details of the investigation itself. In order to justify its refusal to hold a public inquiry and to instead use the process approved by the Quality-Improvement Information Protection Act, the Premier gave the spurious argument that his government has chosen the best approach for the investigators to get to work as soon as possible so that their recommendations can be made public as quickly as possible. He also said that such a review will protect the personal information of Northwood residents. Workers reject this self-serving argument. They see it as a way to prevent the workers, the patients and their families, and Nova Scotians at large from speaking out and being heard publicly so that their input is there and their solutions are also made public.

Faced with the stand of NSGEU not to participate and the words of the NSGEU President that the review looks like a "coverup," Premier McNeil provocatively dismissed MacLean's stand as "rhetoric" that he says is helping no one. He added that "these are people's lives in the health-care system we are trying to improve," as if the workers who provide the services and protect the people are a block to solving the problems in the health care system and as if his government does not have to render account for the deaths that occurred at Northwood. The Premier added that he will investigate to find out if he has the discretion, under the Quality Improvement Information Protection Act, to allow people who want to participate in the review to make their testimony public. But this is precisely what the people of Nova Scotia and across Canada oppose, that governments give themselves arbitrary discretionary power to make all the decisions including who has the right to speak and be heard, and are negating the concerns, the experience, and the voice of the frontline workers who are protecting the people during this pandemic. No problem that society is facing can be solved in this way.


1. To read the report Neglecting Northwood, click here.

The full Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy document can be found here

(Photos: SEIU, L. Smith)

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New Brunswick Landfill Workers

Workers' Persistence in Defence of Rights Prevails! Congratulations!

Workers' Forum congratulates CUPE Local 4193 Red Pine Landfill workers and their supporters throughout New Brunswick and the country for defeating the 24-week long lockout of the workers.[1] Local CUPE 4193 President Serge Plourde announced that its 23 members emerged from the battle on July 28 with their heads held high and a collective agreement that does not include the anti-worker concessions the regional government officials had demanded.

The lockout of Red Pine landfill workers began on February 23 and was immediately widely denounced throughout northern New Brunswick. The members of Local 4193 organized numerous community events and a nationwide petition demanding justice, No to the Use of Scabs! and No to Anti-Worker Concessions!

President Serge Plourde told New Brunswick Media Co-op on July 30, "The union bargaining team made no concessions at the table and received improvements in their contract language as well as a wage increase."

The employer, the Chaleur Regional Service Commission (CRSC), had demanded changes in the existing collective agreement to end unpaid leave for union business and to make adverse changes to the sick leave provisions. The anti-worker changes to sick leave were particularly vile coming during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CRSC came under intense pressure from residents throughout the region and eventually withdrew their demand for changes to union leave and both sides agreed on revised wording for the sick leave clause and an increase in wages. The new collective agreement is retroactive to December 2017 and continues to December 2022.

President Plourde said, "Forcing the employer to remove their demand for changes to union leave was a significant win, and necessary to fight off future attacks on unions in the province. It sends a strong message that unions will stand up for the rights of their members; it's a win for everyone."

The new agreement was negotiated days after 120 community members gathered in Allardville on July 14 to demonstrate their strong support for the members of Local 4193 and denounce the CRSC for using a lockout and scabs in an attempt to force through anti-worker concessions. Many in attendance then marched to the gates of the landfill where they rallied and voiced their demand for a public landfill staffed with local unionized workers who have the right to a collective say over their living and working conditions.

NB Media Co-op reports that President Plourde "credits the win to the strong support by members of the local community as well as union locals and leaders across the province and country, including CUPE national leaders. During the dispute, community members packed several public meetings in support of the workers.... Plourde thanked all the local community members and union locals who demonstrated support and provided donations of food and funds during the long dispute and made it possible to hold the [picket] line until the end."

CUPE 4193 workers thank Allardville and St. Sauveur communities for their support during the lockout, July 30, 2020.

Quoted on the CUPE website, President Plourde said, "For the past six months, our members have held strong through a lockout unlike any other in Canadian history, and we won because we refused to settle for less. Sticking together and supporting one another, and the outpouring of support from our community and our union sisters and brothers across New Brunswick and across Canada, is what got us through this uphill battle."

For six months, the CRSC replaced members of Local 4193 at the landfill with scabs; it sought and gained an unjust court injunction limiting the Local's picket line to a maximum of six people at a time; it demanded the right to interfere in union affairs and to weaken sick leave provisions. Despite the obstacles, the Allardville Red Pine Landfill workers have emerged having defeated the concessions and with their local union stronger than ever and more united with the community and fellow workers and allies across the country.

Congratulations to CUPE Local 4193 members and leadership and all their supporters!


1. For Workers' Forum articles on Local 4193's struggle see:

- "Workers Locked Out Despite Emergency," March 27, 2020
- "Unacceptable Anti-Worker Actions of Ruling Elites, Pierre Chénier, March 27, 2020
- "Landfill Workers in Allardville, New Brunswick Continue to Demand Acceptable Collective Agreement," May 19, 2020

(With files from CUPE and NB Media Co-Op. Photos: S. Plourde, CUPE)

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