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Protest rallies held at local hospitals

DAN CEARNS, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, for The Standard

DURHAM: The union representing registered practical nurses, personal support workers, environmental cleaners, and other staff at local Durham hospitals has been holding protest rallies at hospitals in Whitby, Uxbridge, Port Perry and Bowmanville this past week. “Nearly 70,000 Ontario hospital workers who are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and SEIU Healthcare are currently negotiating a new provincial contract. But after working the past 18 months at a hectic pace in a pandemic, these workers feel devalued and betrayed by both the province and their hospital employers,” read a CUPE press release.

Michael Hurley, president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, explained to The Standard these rallies are meant to highlight two issues.

“There [are] two issues we’re trying to draw attention to. The first is the Ford government passed legislation that limits wage increases for public sector workers to no more than one percent [per] year. So this means healthcare workers and hospital workers, in particular, are limited to no more than one percent in total compensation for each of the first three years of their collective agreement. Inflation in July was 4.1 percent. It means they’ll be taking a real wage cut of over three percent in the first year alone, so perhaps nine percent in the first three years lost to inflation,” Mr. Hurley said.

The union’s press release adds the same passed legislation “also impacts hospital workers’ ability to negotiate much-needed increases to mental health supports like psychotherapy and post-traumatic stress counselling.”

“Many of [the workers] in the polling that we’ve done indicated to us they are suffering from stress, depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, all issues which have become more pronounced through COVID-19,” Mr. Hurley explained.

The CUPE representative stated the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA), another party they are negotiating with, put a number of concessions on the table the OHA wants workers to take.

“These represent fundamental losses to existing rights around job security, the ability for people to move into other jobs, around the kinds of protections they had. The rallies are also targeted at asking the hospitals to pull back their concessions,” added Mr. Hurley.

There currently still remain issues for healthcare workers receiving personal protective equipment he shared, “Hospital workers have had ongoing trouble accessing the N95 masks and other protective equipment.”

However, it appears there is consensus between the hospital association and the union on the length of the next contract. “The last contract was four years long. We prefer a longer-term agreement. I know the hospitals do too. I think we have a shared interest in stability and being able to plan,” Mr. Hurley stated.

CUPE also feels the recently announced requirement for vaccination policies in hospitals made by the Ontario government is a good compromise.

“I think the government took a good position in the vaccination policy. First of all, we strongly encourage all healthcare workers to be vaccinated. But as you know, there are some people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons or their religious beliefs,” Mr. Hurley explained. “I think the government struck a good balance there.”

The current CUPE contract expires at the end of September, and the SEIU contract expires in early October.

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