Secrecy trumps transparency as Wall gov’t denies five FOI requests on wage mandate and SAHO negotiations with health care provider unions
It’s quite the team effort. On one side is the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO) stalling and stringing the health care provider unions along, and on the other side, the Saskatchewan Party government feigning concern, calling the shots and stonewalling the public’s request for information.
The Saskatchewan Government & General Employees’ Union (SGEU), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Service Employees International Union West (SEIUWEST) who represent 25,000 health care providers have been without a contract since March 31, 2008.
After 17 months of dithering, SAHO finally tabled a financial offer with the three unions at a common table on September 22, 2009. The package included a four year collective agreement with the following general wage increases:
April 1, 2008 – 2.75%
April 1, 2009 – 2.0%
April 1, 2010 – 2.25%
April 1, 2011 – 2.25%
The StarPhoenix reported that within 30 minutes of delivering the offer SAHO headed straight for the media to release details. That did not go over well with the unions, which accused the association of bargaining in the media. [Wage offer insulting: unions (StarPhoenix, September 23, 2009]
In a bargaining update issued later that day the CUPE Health Care Council said the monetary offer was “appalling” and that the cost of the employers’ concessions “far outweighs the cost of the wage increase.”
The council noted that SAHO’s chief negotiator used the phrase “all or nothing” when tabling the proposal.
SAHO’s offer to the health care unions doesn’t come close to the deal it signed with the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses in 2008 that saw a 35 per cent wage increase over four years for a general duty nurse.
Those negotiations started on February 12, 2008, when the two sides met for the first time and concluded on July 9, 2008, when the collective agreement was signed. The total time elapsed was 149, or just under months. Compare that the present situation where SAHO and the Wall government have allowed things to drag on for well over a year.
On September 24, 2009, the union-hating elephant in the room made its presence known when Finance Minister Rod Gantefoer told reporters in a scrum at the
According to StarPhoenix reporter James Wood, the finance minister would not disclose the wage mandate set by the government but acknowledged the offer from the government-funded health regions was based on the Sask. Party’s guidelines.
“We’re going to have a mandate that we expect to stick to. But that’s going to be bargained at the bargaining table,” Gantefoer said.
“The bargaining process means that the employer will table an offer, as SAHO did in that sector as an example, the unions will get back and counter and they will go back and forth and hopefully arrive at a contract.” [Flat tax out, budget cuts in, says Gantefoer (StarPhoenix, September 25, 2009)]
The implementation of a strict wage mandate is only the latest attempt by the Wall government to sabotage the bargaining process.
Last year Health Minister Don 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, 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
It’s crystal clear who’s calling the shots – and it’s not SAHO.
SAHO is said to be a non-government association of health agencies in
On June 15, 2009, Health Minister Don McMorris issued a statement urging SAHO and the health provider unions 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
That was five months ago and there’s still no agreement. McMorris hasn’t issued any further news releases on the subject. Apparently he’s gotten over his concern.
On October 14, 2009, SAHO president and CEO Susan Antosh confirmed in an interview with the StarPhoenix that the September 22 proposal was the employers’ “initial offer.”
“We are open to having discussions and negotiating with the unions on how that might change. It is an initial offer, so the unions have to engage in bargaining with us if they wish to see that offer change.” [Health workers frustrated (StarPhoenix, October 15, 2009)]
What seems to escape Antosh is the fact that the unions have indeed been trying to bargain with SAHO since 2008, but to no avail.
On October 16, 2009, SAHO tabled what it called a “new proposal.”
“We are very interested in reaching a collective agreement, and have enhanced our offer to the unions. We feel this is a significant gesture and we hope the unions will respond to it,” Antosh said.
However, the initial monetary offer that SAHO made on September 22 did not change.
The CUPE Health Care Council responded with another a bargaining update: “SAHO has maintained its position of less than 10 percent over 4 years, which is tied to our acceptance of major take-aways. SAHO refuses to discuss other monetary issues in our package without our agreement on take-aways. In other words, SAHO is insisting that we sell the house, but they won’t tell us the purchase price.
“We provided SAHO with our coalition proposal document which includes all bargaining proposals that are common to the three provider unions. SAHO flatly rejected this package on [October 16] and tabled a revised “all or nothing” package that made very minor progress by expanding the classifications for market adjustments.”
In a bargaining update on October 30, 2009, the health care council said the union made an offer to SAHO and the employers on October 28 to withdraw all CUPE exclusive issues and proceed to the coalition table if they would do the same. SAHO considered the proposal and on Friday the 30th said their answer was NO.
“Unfortunately, we believe some form of job action is becoming completely necessary. We will be consulting with SEIU and SGEU and be communicating with you in the very near future,” the update said.
Well, so much for SAHO’s interest in reaching a collective agreement.
Behind the scenes the Saskatchewan Party government has been hard at work doing what it does best – erecting walls of secrecy.
In the last three months the health and finance ministries have denied five freedom of information requests on the wage mandate and SAHO’s negotiations with the health care provider unions:
▪ September 2, 2009 – Saskatchewan Health denied access to copies of any briefing notes or memorandums from June 18, 2009, to August 14, 2009, regarding or relating to contract negotiations between SAHO and CUPE, SEIU and SGEU.
▪ October 20, 2009 – Saskatchewan Health denied access to copies of any briefing notes or memorandums from August 15, 2009, to September 25, 2009, regarding or relating to contract negotiations between SAHO and CUPE, SEIU and SGEU.
▪ October 20, 2009 – Saskatchewan Health denied access to copies of any briefing notes or memorandums from August 1, 2009, to September 29, 2009, regarding or relating to the wage mandate set by the government for negotiations with public sector unions.
▪ November 4, 2009 – Saskatchewan Finance denied access to copies of any letters or memorandums from August 1, 2009, to September 29, 2009, between the provincial government and the health regions or SAHO regarding or relating to the wage mandate set by the government for negotiations with public sector unions.
▪ November 4, 2009 – Saskatchewan Finance denied access to copies of any briefing notes or memorandums from August 1, 2009, to September 29, 2009, regarding or relating to the wage mandate set by the government for negotiations with public sector unions.
Saskatchewan Health went so far as to release a number of records with every page blacked out.
According to Saskatchewan Finance’s and
The finance ministry goes one step further stating its strategy for achieving that goal is to “demonstrate leadership for good governance, transparency, and accountability across government.”
Neither ministry is living up to that promise. Secrecy is trumping transparency.