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
• 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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
carenotprofit.ca 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."
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.
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
care staffing crisis, and that cuts have left health care services
over-crowded and at risk. This data shows the devastating effects of
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.
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
"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
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
"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
1. View the data here.
2. View the report here.
3. See "Pandemic Pay for Unifor Health Care Workers."
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
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
Another rally was held by ONA Local 83 on July 29 at Carleton MPP Goldie Ghamari's office.
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
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
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. 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
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
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
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.
New Brunswick Landfill Workers
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.
Local CUPE 4193 President Serge Plourde announced that its 23 members
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
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
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
(To access articles individually click on the black headline.)
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