Strike carries on at Stz’uminus Health Center

Striking workers’ spirits boosted by community lunch

  • Mar. 2, 2015 8:00 p.m.

Stz’uminus Health Center employees have been on the picket lines for more than 20 days now, as a labour dispute that has disrupted service for almost a month continues.

The Health Center workers have been out of a contract since 2013, explained Sheila Seymour, co-ordinator of the Health Center’s Brighter Futures program.

The inability to reach a new agreement has a lot to do with one non-monetary issue surrounding employees’ breaks.

“They’re taking our one-hour lunch break and giving us 30 minutes, and we asked for our two 15-minute breaks in the morning and afternoon to be combined to the lunch so it’s still a one-hour break,” said Seymour. “That’s the only thing we’re asking for.”

“We agreed to the employer’s concession asking us to go down from an hour paid lunch to a half-hour paid lunch, understanding that is the way a lot of things are going, and our paid lunches are unusual,” continued Pete Pederson, a mental health wellness clinician. “But we are entitled to two 15-minute breaks, and because of the nature of health care and the nature of working in a community like this where we’re on the road a lot and we have lots of clients and lots of programs, we’ve asked to have that flexibility. The concession of half an hour works out to 130 hours a year of labour that we’re going without compensation.”

Pederson says they’ve seen other employees of Stz’uminus First Nation lose benefits, sick days and cultural days, and they’ve decided to take a stand.

“It’s about self-care,” he said. “It costs the band nothing; we’re not asking for more money. Our employees are some of the lowest-paid unionized employees in First Nations communities, and even at that, we’re not arguing over an issue of money.”

Pederson says the issue may seem small, but it’s important for the employees to be able to take a break when they can so that they can return to work recharged and refreshed.

“Negotiation is about a give and take, and that’s not happening,” he added.

Seymour and Pederson say the Stz’uminus Health Center has approximately 24 full-time, part-time and casual employees.

Stz’uminus Health provides services such as a community health nurse, a home care nurse, personal care aides, homemakers, patient travel clerk and mental health clinicians.

“We want to be back doing our jobs,” said Pederson. “They are just refusing to talk to us. So the community’s not getting these services. Even though there are maintenance agreements in place, most people do not fall into those agreements.”

By Feb. 24, employees said they hadn’t had any word from the employers in the 19 days they’d been on the picket line.

On Feb. 24, the striking workers put on a lunch for the community at the picket line at the entrance to the Health Center. which enables health services to continue to be delivered on an affordable and sustainable basis.

On behalf of the employer, we thank you for your support and understanding during this interruption of health services. We look forward to reaching a fair agreement with the Health Center employees and their union.”

During the strike action, the only services that will be provided by the Health Center staff are the essential services of critical home-care patients, as designated by the home care nurse, according to the Stz’uminus First Nation.

It was an opportunity to try to maintain a bit of routine, as Stz’uminus Health usually hosts a lunch for the community three times a week.

“Lunch is a very important part of the culture, eating together and sitting and sharing, so we’re trying to maintain that,” said Pederson. “We’re committed to seeing this through. Days like today lift our spirits, being together.”

A representative from the employer did not return calls by press time, but the Stz’uminus First Nation has provided news bulletins to the community through its Facebook page. In the Stz’uminus First Nation’s most recent post about the strike action on Feb. 25, it states that the employer position is this:

“1. The employer has asked the Health Center employees to reduce their one-hour paid lunch break to a paid 30-minute lunch break

a. This change to the paid lunch break for Health Center employees aligns them with the rest of the 120 other staff in all the other departments for Stz’uminus — this is fair

b. By reducing the paid lunch break to 30 minutes, the employer can effectively provide additional services to the community

2. The employer has provided financial information to the union which supports the fact that there is not enough money to sustain significant wage increases.

3. The employer has agreed to wage increases that are financially responsible, without taking away from programs and services for the community members.

4. The employer has also presented each Health Center employee a cash bonus upon signing an agreement, which enables health services to continue to be delivered on an affordable and sustainable basis.

On behalf of the employer, we thank you for your support and understanding during this interruption of health services. We look forward to reaching a fair agreement with the Health Center employees and their union.”

During the strike action, the only services that will be provided by the Health Center staff are the essential services of critical home-care patients, as designated by the home care nurse, according to the Stz’uminus First Nation.

 

Ladysmith Chronicle