Hospital workers rally to have Bill 124 repealed
Reeti Meenakshi Rohilla - Staff Writer
Hospital workers at the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre (SLMHC) rallied to advocate to repeal Bill 124 that presents hospital wage cuts.
The rally was organized by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU).
The provincial government passed Bill 124 in 2019; a legislation that restricts annual wage increases for three years to one per cent. According to a flyer by CUPE and OCHU, which was handed out at the rally, inflation is 3.6 per cent, meaning a 2.6 percent cut to their wages in the first year alone.
Over 50 rallies across the province are scheduled through the end of August, with a major rally planned for September 10 at Queen’s Park.
“What we are trying to get across is what these people have endured, the courage and the sacrifices that these people have made being isolated from their families, sleeping in garages while some went to hotels, working overtime, mandatory overtime, giving up weekends to work,” said Louis Rodrigues, the Vice President of OCHU. “The Ford government acknowledged them as heroes, and rightfully so. Now, fast forward, we get into negotiations and he brings out Bill 124, that only allows us to bargain in total compensation would be one percent,” Rodrigues shared, adding, “They did a lot and this is a way that they are being repaid for.”
Rodrigues said, “They were heroes and none of them complained and when this first started, nobody knew if they were going to live or die, this was as new pandemic. This wasn’t something we were accustomed to. People showed up for work, they did what they needed to. He added, “But this is…a slap in the face to a lot of our members here that felt pretty bad about what’s happening, and it is impacting recruiting.”
President of CUPE local 4373, Erin Clace shared that their union covers RPNs (Registered Practical Nurses), PSWs (Personal Support Workers), interpreters, dietary staff, house keeping staff, laundry staff, maintenance workers, ward clerks, admitting clerks, and other clerks at SLMHC.
Clace, who also works as an RPN at SLMHC, said that the hospital has been very supportive of its staff throughout the pandemic. “Our hospital has actually been very supportive of our local during this pandemic. When I first learned about the bill was shortly after it had come out in the media and there was a lot of reactions of disappointment and anger, and it’s insulting to have a limit put on to what we can bargain for fair wages and I can say that our hospital is fully in support of us trying to get rid of the bill so that we can bargain for fair wages.”
“When the government first came out with the pandemic pay, I don’t know if a lot people are aware, but there were a lot of our members that were left off of that list, like lab support services and certain other fields, and so CUPE sent letters, our locals sent a letter, our hospital also sent a letter to the government basically asking to allow these professions to be included in the pandemic pay and I have had meetings with management and they are in full support of us trying to get rid of Bill 124, and they stand behind us,” said Clace. “To my knowledge, we have not come up against any sort of shortage of PPE, we have always had that accessible. They are doing what they can to support their members and so its been a good feeling to have the support of the hospital, when you hear in the media that the situation is not the same across Ontario. You hear about CUPE members and other union members having to fight for PPE and fight for time off and fight for anything that was mentioned in the emergency order, our hospital has been very, very supportive of their staff,” she added.
President and CEO of SLMHC, Heather Lee said, “Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre (SLMHC) deeply values the hard work and dedication of our employees, who have shown they will do whatever it takes to care for those in need despite very trying circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Both the Ontario Hospital Association and Ontario area hospitals did not request legislative intervention into collective bargaining and did not support Bill 124 when it was first introduced or when it was passed. We join Ontario hospitals in the belief that the right place for negotiations is collectively, with partners, at the table. The Ontario healthcare system is transforming and it’s important that agreements support the delivery of the best quality of care for patients and their families.”
Rodrigues said that while it is comforting to know that there are some exceptions such as SLMHC, however, the situation of wage cuts persists, along with the lack of recourse that was available to a large number of hospital workers across the province. “But what is really insulting are the concession, the takeaways that are on the table from the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) They are trying to take away things like job security, seniority for union members that’s a factor in applying for the job, if you are successful in applying for a job, you have a 30 day trial, they want to take that away from you. There’s a lot of things that they are trying and these are just the wrong times, and we felt so bad that we had to do something for our members that are working hard here, committed to it, and the restrictions on us freely bargain a collective agreement that reflects the contributions that they make for society,” he said.
Rodrigues appreciated the community members for all the support that they have shown to appreciate those workers’ hard work. “But, this government talks a lot of heroism, but not about rewarding them. We are not asking for increase, we are asking to at least keep up with the inflation,” he said, adding, “So, we feel very, very violated, or almost cheated. I don’t know what the appropriate word would be, but it’s an awful feeling and we want to make sure that our members know we are not going to go into a contract that has concessions in it. We are going to do whatever it takes to fight back.”
Rodrigues said that Service Employees International Union (SEIU) represents about 70,000 members. “We are going to do a rally on Queen’s Park on September 10 and we are going to bus people in, we are going to do a massive rally, and anybody that could join us in support of these people that truly put their lives on the line…and they are prepared to do it again, and we are not talking about doing anything irrational. We are trying to do this in a good way to go out and get some support for what these people have done,” he concluded.