Saskatchewan Health censors collective bargaining briefing notes; SAHO refusal to table monetary package to CUPE, SEIU and SGEU hypocritical
“We are committed to ensuring that
That was one of the ‘key messages’ Saskatchewan Health officials outlined in a briefing note prepared May 22, 2009, presumably for Health Minister Don McMorris, as an update on collective bargaining and essential services bargaining between health sector unions and the health regions.
The briefing note was one of three that were recently obtained from the health ministry through a freedom of information request that was made June 17, 2009. One additional record, a three-page document dated June 11, 2009, was withheld in its entirety. The ministry denied access to this record and heavily censored two of the briefing notes because they contain “Cabinet information, advice from officials, and/or the release of the information would release economic and other interests.”
It wasn’t until June 15, 2009, that McMorris finally issued a statement urging the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO) and unions representing approximately 25,000 health care workers to “quickly conclude” negotiations on collective agreements.
“I’m concerned about the lack of progress at the bargaining table,” McMorris said. “It appears contract talks have bogged down. I’m challenging SAHO and the unions to redouble their efforts to ensure settlements are reached.”
McMorris said the government values the work done by all health care employees in
Two months have passed and McMorris’s challenge has had little to no effect.
Collective agreements for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Saskatchewan Government Employees Union (SGEU) expired March 31, 2008.
At the request of the unions, negotiations for a new collective agreement began in September 2008 for CUPE and in October 2008 for SEIU and SGEU.
The Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan (HSAS) collective agreement expired March 31, 2009, and bargaining began shortly thereafter.
SAHO negotiates collective agreements on behalf of regional health authorities and other health care employers in
On June 9, 2009, CUPE released the results of a strike vote held between May 26 and June 8. Health-care providers voted 88 per cent in support of taking job action — one of the strongest strike votes in the council’s history, according to the union.
“It sends a strong message to the employer to drop the demands for major concessions and get serious about contract negotiations,”' said Gordon Campbell, president of the CUPE Health Care Council. [CUPE health-care providers vote 88 per cent in support of strike (Leader-Post, June 9, 2009)]
On July 28, 2009, the unions representing health provider workers in the province issued a joint news release expressing their extreme disappointment with the lack of progress at their respective bargaining tables since the health minister’s “public challenge to the unions, the health care employers and SAHO to get down to business and settle these negotiations.”
CUPE Health Care Council president Gordon Campbell said, “After a significant move by CUPE in response to this challenge, we see the employers and SAHO remain steadfast in their takeaway proposals and their continued refusal to table an initial monetary offer”.
Bob Bymoen, president of SGEU said the lack of progress at their bargaining table is a direct result of the tactics being employed by SAHO and the employers. “Collective bargaining is not a process where one side withholds information of proposals and then expects the other side to make all of the movement,” he said.
The unions believe the health minister “should follow-up his challenge but with specific directions to SAHO and the health care employers to begin bargaining in good faith.”
In the article Health-care unions call for SAHO monetary offer (StarPhoenix, July 29, 2009) SAHO CEO Susan Antosh said the outstanding non-monetary issues have to be resolved before wages can be discussed at a common table with the three unions.
“I think by any objective measure the employer has moved more than the unions have to this point. With both CUPE and SEIUWest, we have either withdrawn or amended more than three-quarters of our proposals. The unions in both of those cases have withdrawn or amended less than half their proposals,” Antosh said.
What Antosh failed to mention is that there appear to be a significant number of issues that SAHO is unwilling to discuss.
In a bargaining update on July 24, 2009, the CUPE Health Care Council noted that: “Out of the remaining 45 proposals the
As for the monetary package, CUPE said they’re “still left wondering who is calling the shots. The
In a news release immediately following the health minister’s challenge, SAHO CEO Susan Antosh claimed that, “As early as December of 2008, SAHO indicated to CUPE that the employers were prepared to move to the common table and deal with the financial proposals as well as everything else as a package if it was desired by all three of the unions.”
As far back as last fall the unions have been asking for a monetary package and have wondered who was in charge – the employer or the Saskatchewan Party government. They’re efforts have been stymied at nearly every turn. Newsflash to the health minister: negotiations bogged down long before June 15.
On November 21, 2008, CUPE said in a bargaining update that its bargaining committee “asked for the employer’s mandate for monetary issues.”
“Without knowledge of the monetary portion and the wage mandate of the employer’s bargaining proposals, the Union bargains in a vacuum, and the process cannot be considered fair. In an attempt to discover the mandate, we specifically asked the employer “who are your principals?” The answer was, “The Premier and Cabinet,”” the news release said.
CUPE said the bargaining committee was told on November 18, 2008, that it “could not have this information, indeed that they “didn’t have it” to give. They would need to “get back to us” after consulting Cabinet and the Premier.”
Then, on January 23, 2009, CUPE announced that, “During the holidays and through discussions between CUPE and the employer, we were expressly advised that the employer committee does not have the information or authority regarding the monetary package to share with CUPE at this time.”
This begs the question, if SAHO didn’t have the monetary information in November 2008 or January 2009, how was it able to make an offer in December 2008 to table it?
Then there is the matter of SAHO’s hypocrisy during negotiations with the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) last year.
The two sides met for the first time on February 12, 2008. On April 2, 2008, “full proposals” were exchanged including a monetary package.
On June 23, 2008, it was announced that nurses had voted 78 per cent in favour of accepting a final offer from the province’s health employers. The new four-year contract, according to The StarPhoenix, would provide general duty nurses with wage increases of nearly 35 per cent over four years. The collective agreement was signed July 9, 2008. The total time of the bargaining process from start to finish was 149 days, or just under five months.
Compare that to the eleven months that bargaining has dragged on with the other unions with no apparent end in sight.
On March 20, 2008, during tense negotiations with SUN, SAHO CEO Susan Antosh said, “The difficulty remains we need to see SUN’s full proposal package in order to proceed with bargaining.
“What SUN initially presented to us was a document that basically said we would agree to exchange proposal packages and that we would talk and come to conclusion on all recruitment and retention initiatives and then we would talk about all of the other issues.
“But we can only deal with things in collective bargaining as part of an entire package. We have one mandate. We have to deal with it as an entire package.” [SUN asks for conciliator for negotiations with SAHO (Leader-Post, March 20, 2008)]
On April 2, 2008, after both sides exchanged full proposals, Antosh said the exchange of packages was a “positive result.” [Nurses receive new wage offer (StarPhoenix, April 3, 2008)]
And yet when CUPE, SEIU and SGEU make a similar argument SAHO repeatedly slams the door in their face.
Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk revealed a disturbing tidbit of information in his March 18, 2009, column when he wrote: “McMorris unquestionably was involved directly in negotiations with the nurses last year -- either through publicly signing the retention agreement, or by privately and indirectly intervening in the talks between the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations and SUN, according to sources.” [Health may prove Achilles heel (StarPhoenix, March 18, 2009)]
Meanwhile, CUPE said in June it has been trying to meet with the health minister since he was elected, but “have been rebuffed by him at every turn.” [CUPE Health Care Council Bargaining Update #12 – June 17, 2009]
Overlooked throughout all this is the fact that the Wall government tainted the bargaining process early on when McMorris told reporters outside a meeting of the provincial cabinet at the legislature on June 4, 2008, that the “massive pay raise offered to nurses isn’t likely to be repeated for other health-care workers.” [Hefty offer to nurses special case, McMorris says (StarPhoenix, June 5, 2008)]
Six months later, on December 4, 2008, Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer said that in preparing the 2009-10 budget inflation, or a cost-of-living-allowance (COLA) would “be the benchmark for public sector contracts, including the three health care unions that currently have open contracts.”
Gantefoer said the SUN contract was necessary for retention and recruitment purposes because of discrepancies in pay between
“If you’re one of the support staff or one of the people who provide valuable services but by and large you’re similarly treated in other jurisdictions, then the case for special consideration doesn’t exist and COLA looks pretty good in my mind,” he said. [‘Challenge’ to balance
Finally, health officials cited section 16(1) of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act pertaining to cabinet documents 15 times as a reason why a significant amount of information was severed from two of the briefing notes recently released. This alone suggests who’s really calling the shots in this mess.