Vol. 6, No. 2
SOLIDARITY AGAINST AUSTERITY!
PSAC members fight cuts to public services
Our strength is in our solidarity
Brothers and Sisters:
I ran for PSAC National President because I believe I can make a difference and bring a new voice to Ottawa. I thank the voting delegates at the 16th National Triennial Convention for demonstrating their confidence in my leadership.
I've spoken with many of you over the past few weeks regarding the public service cuts you are experiencing in your workplaces and the hostile political climate we are faced with in this country. The stories of how the cuts are already affecting our Brothers and Sisters and their families are truly heartbreaking, and I am committed to helping our members through this difficult process.
At my side during these challenging times will be your newly elected National Executive Vice-President Chris Aylward. Brother Aylward has been a PSAC member and activist for 30 years. I've had the opportunity to work with him over the years, and I know that he shares my unwavering determination to fight for our members and our rights.
Many of you have shared your concerns with us regarding the cuts, and they're similar to ours. There is no question, Brothers and Sisters, this government is decimating quality public services and destroying our communities, but it will not break our spirits.
Together through our collective actions, our ongoing networking and lobbying efforts, our courses, conferences, conventions, and the outreach we do everyday in our workplaces and our communities, we can affect change and we do.
A strong union starts with a strong membership, and we've watched the solidarity and camaraderie strengthen within our union. Members from coast-to-coast-to coast – the seasoned activists, and the fresh unionists, the soon-to-be retirees, and the young workers of tomorrow, the Components and the DCLs, coming together with one purpose and one goal to strengthen our union.
The union is the members, and the members are the union. I look forward to working together with Chris, leaders across the country, and each of you to demonstrate the power of the union, and the strength of solidarity.
In Solidarity, Robyn Benson, National President
Protecting workers' mental health in the face of job cuts
On Mental Health Day in September 2011, PSAC sent an open letter to all levels of government, bringing to their attention the growing mental health crisis in Canada. Subsequently, we also released a report entitled Mental Health at Work, outlining a series of recommendations for decision makers.
These recommendations touch on actions to address work overload, negative work environment, harassment, poor work-life balance and job insecurity. It also highlights new tools developed by PSAC to assist employers and workers navigate around mental health issues in the workplace. We received an overwhelmingly positive response to this letter, with recognition that more work is needed.
PSAC is acutely aware that these tools and resources become more urgent due to the unstable work environment and the different scenarios members are currently facing. We know that some members will lose their jobs, others will be competing with their peers to keep their jobs, and that others will have to survive working in potentially hostile work environments.
This new workplace environment and the Workforce Adjustment process have started to take a toll on our members. We have received many calls and have heard anecdotally that people are feeling a tremendous amount of stress, anxiety and fear. These are the warning signs for psychologically unhealthy workplaces.
Senior Health Canada officials responsible for the Employee Assistance Plan have also reported a significant spike in calls, receiving in one month the equivalent number of calls they would have normally received in one year.
Harold Floyd, a PSAC member working at Library and Archives, told the Ottawa Citizen that it's the uncertainty which is depressing as well as the reality of now having to compete for his own job:
“You don't sleep well. You go to bed thinking about it, you wake up thinking about it. It is with you all the time, and it is terrible.”
Edward Martin, a lands management officer at Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada also spoke to the Citizen and described the emotional roller coaster he's been on since receiving his notice.
“I am flip-flopping all over. One moment, it is like ‘I'm okay with this. I can handle this.' And then it is all negative and you are not sure. This is toxic to a person's well-being.”
We will continue working with members to find them the necessary support and information they need, to protect their rights and to provide moral support in these difficult times.
To access our tools and resources, go to www.psac-afpc.com, click on “campaigns” and select “mental health.”
Robyn Benson elected PSAC National President
Robyn Benson was elected as the new National President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada on May 3, 2012. She succeeds John Gordon, who retired after six years in the role and more than 30 years of union activism.
Benson was the Regional Executive Vice-President for PSAC's Prairies region since 2000.
As the REVP, Benson was responsible for a wide range of activities in her region which covers Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. These include the Regional Council, organizing and re-certifications, education, political and social action, women's and equity programs, Area Councils, Directly Chartered Locals and separate employers, Federations of Labour and related committees, and District Labour Councils. During her terms as REVP she also shared national responsibility for collective bargaining, finance, human rights and education for the PSAC.
Benson worked for 20 years with the Winnipeg Taxation Centre of Revenue Canada (now the Canada Revenue Agency) before her election in 2000. Her union involvement dates back to the1980 strike by the Clerical and Regulatory (CR) bargaining unit when she was a term employee. She has held a variety of union positions including Regional Vice-President in the Union of Taxation Employees, a position she held until 2000.
Chris Aylward elected National Executive Vice-President
Chris Aylward was elected the new PSAC National Executive Vice-President at the PSAC Triennial Convention in May. He succeeds Patty Ducharme.
Aylward was the Union of Taxation Employees' Regional Vice- President in the National Capital Region from 1977 to 2011. Before being elected NEVP, he held the full-time position of UTE 1st National Vice-President. Aylward's involvement in UTE began in 1982 in the St. John's NL Taxation Centre.
Danielle Dubuc elected alternate National Executive Vice-President
Danielle Dubuc is a member of the Customs and Immigration Union Component of the PSAC and has been a Canadian Labour Congress Vice-President representing workers of colour since 2011.
Should the National President leave office in mid-term for any reason, the National Executive Vice-president automatically succeeds to the position. If that were to happen, the alternate NEVP would take on the Vice- President role. The alternate would also fill the position should the NEVP be unable to complete his or her term.
At the close of the National Triennial Convention in May, PSAC President John Gordon officially retired after more than 30 years of union activism.
A PSAC activist since 1974 when he joined the federal public sector as a tradesperson with Public Works Canada, Gordon was first elected as the union's National President in 2006, after spending six years in the role of National Executive Vice-President.
Former PSAC national president Daryl Bean took the chair's podium on the last day of the convention and called the Gordon family on stage. After saying a few words, Bean introduced a video paying tribute to John Gordon. The video showed pictures and video clips of John's development as a union activist and his involvement in labour and social justice movements.
PSAC elected official and members, other union leaders, staff and family members recounted stories of Gordon as a union and social justice activist and family man. They paid tribute to his commitment to the labour movement and his generosity as a human being.
To view the video, visit PSAC's Youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/PSACwebmaster.
“I think it's excellent,” said Nastashya Wall, a biology student and lab demonstrator at the University of Winnipeg. Wall is a new member of PSAC and the president of her local. She is attending this convention as a observer, but hopes to become even more involved in PSAC in the years to come.
“The fact that this resolution passed makes me proud,” she said. “It shows that we are included in this union and it represents an investment in youth empowerment.”
Sophie Tremblay-Morissette, a communications specialist at the CRTC and the co-chair of the National Capital Region's Young Workers' Committee, said that she's thrilled to see that youth in other regions will have the chance to discuss common issues. Her own experience forming a youth committee has convinced her of how valuable these spaces can be for younger workers.
“Youth committees allow us to keep each other connected and spread the word about national campaigns,” she said.
According to Carol-Anne Gauthier, the new youth committees will allow young workers to discuss issues that are quite distinct from the concerns of long-standing members.
As a PhD student in industrial relations and research assistant at the University of Laval, Gauthier is well-aware of the challenges that recent graduates are facing in the midst of a difficult economy.
“We are the first generation of workers that will probably fare less well economically than our parents,” she said. “We have all grown up being told that we won't have pensions, decent jobs or Employment Insurance to rely on. We are expected to take occasional or parttime work – we're treated as expendable.”
For Gauthier, the new youth committees will guarantee that some of these pressing issues will be better reflected in the work of the union.
“If you find strength within a group of people with similar concerns, it gives you power,” she said.
Delegates at PSAC's Triennial Convention passed resolutions that will guide the union's workplace activism and political action campaigns over the next three years. Highlights include:
A lobby campaign to protect public service pensions and counter the misinformation being spread by groups like the C.D. Howe Institute and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
A national strategy to raise awareness about mental health issues in the workplace, with a focus on prevention and respectful representation.
A national lobby campaign in support of universal, quality, accessible, affordable child care.
New regional youth committees that will allow young workers to build solidarity, share knowledge and develop skills.
The addition of women as an equity group to the union's national human rights committee, joining Aboriginal peoples, racialized persons, LGBT, and disabled persons in being able to send two delegates to each PSAC triennial convention.
The continuation of the union's campaign to achieve protective reassignment for pregnant and nursing workers all across Canada.
A study to investigate the “greening” of the union, including the adoption of electronic forms for expense claims and pension benefits.
Research into electronic voting options that could be used throughout the union whenever votes are required, such as the ratification of collective agreements.
An initiative to organize employees working for private employers that used to be part of the unionized public sector.
Ongoing work to monitor the abuse of term employees in the federal public sector, especially in the midst of massive cuts and job losses.
A new awareness campaign aimed at ending workplace bullying and harassment.
An action campaign to make safe drinking water accessible to First Nations people and have it be recognized as a human right.
Bargaining climate difficult in face of cuts
Bargaining continues to be difficult for the Technical Services, Border Services, Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Parks Canada units of the federal government. The climate has worsened considerably since the federal budget, which slashes the size of the public service. Parks and CFIA in particular have been heavily targeted for job reductions.
At the TC, FB and CFIA tables, the union is ready to bargain but the employer is making little effort to achieve the compromises required to close new deals. In each case PSAC has decided to refer bargaining to conciliation, asking the Public Service Labour Relations Board (PSLRB) to establish Public Interest Commissions.
Rather than the more familiar process of conciliation, the Public Service Labour Relations Act requires that a Public Interest Commission (PIC) be appointed. PSAC has requested that the PSLRB establish a three person (a chair and two side-persons) PIC for TC, FB and CFIA. As part of its deliberations, the PIC must take into account several factors including the state of the Canadian economy and the Canadian government's fiscal circumstances. The PIC issues recommendations for resolving the differences between the parties. PSAC's website (www.psac-afpc.com) will be updated with meeting dates once the PICs are established.
At Parks, both the union and the employer have agreed to hold bargaining in abeyance until at least the fall while the parties sort through the fallout of about 20 per cent of the membership hit with Workforce Adjustment notices.
Delegates at the PSAC National Convention discussed and adopted resolutions that will help ensure the union's financial stability in the coming years, bolster our efforts to fight back against the government's cuts to public services, and encourage young workers to get involved in their union.
Starting on January 1, 2013, the dues rate for PSAC members will go from 0.9007% to 0.9668% – an average increase of $2.83 per member per month. This increase will go toward the following priorities:
- An increase in the union's political action budget to a total of $2 million per year to protect members from cuts to jobs and public services.
- The creation of PSAC regional youth committees to allow young workers to share experiences, to develop skills and to discuss the impact of current events on young workers.
- Providing funding to deal with an anticipated solvency deficit in the PSAC staff pension plan.
This last priority represents the greatest portion of the dues increase and is only a temporary measure. The increase to ensure the solvency of the PSAC staff pension plan represents 0.0593% of each member's salary and will only apply between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2015.
Also, if the pension plan actuaries determine that these funds are not necessary, any unused portion will be credited to members.
Delegates approve contingency plan
The Convention approved a budget for 2013-2015 that was built on the assumption that PSAC would have 170,000 members on average. Since the average membership in 2011 was above 185,000 members, the delegates approved a very prudent budget.
But if the membership level should fall below 170,000 due to severe and reckless cuts in the federal public service, a special dues increase will be applied.
PSAC will review the membership numbers every six months between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2015. If the membership falls below 170,000 in any six month period, the special dues increase will be triggered. It will cease to apply if the membership goes back up to 170,000 or more.
We are confident that this contingency plan will not be necessary given the prudent budget that was adopted, but delegates agreed a safety net was necessary to plan for the worst case scenario.
Joint Learning Program launches new workshop on Duty to Accommodate
Both PSAC and Treasury Board recognize that employees, managers and the union have key roles to play in fostering inclusive work environments that create opportunities for all employees to contribute their talents and abilities. This workshop is one of six joint learning workshops that are designed to help improve workplace relations.
There is no need to be a specialist to participate in the workshop but it also meets the needs of those involved with helping to accommodate workers with disabilities and other specific challenges.
“This workshop couldn't come at a better time,” says Donna Lackie, National President of the Government Services Union, a component of PSAC. She participated in the pilot version of the workshop last summer.
“Our members are experiencing increased physical and psychological workplace stress. This training helps provide guidelines for clear, respectful and appropriate workplace accommodation.”
The workshop is already in high demand. The first of the workshops have already been delivered in the Atlantic, Prairies and British Columbia. Close to 20 more sessions will be held by the end of June.
The JLP is a partnership between PSAC and TBS. The objectives of the JLP are to improve labour relations and increase the understanding of the roles of the union and management in the workplace.
McGill workers join PSAC
More than 1,700 support staff at McGill University recently joined PSAC, after the union supported them through a long strike this fall.
PSAC now represents more than 6,000 workers at McGill, also including 3,500 casual employees and 1,200 research associates and assistants.
“We sincerely believe that our joining PSAC will enable us to consolidate our gains and improve our working and living conditions at McGill in the near future,” said Kevin Whittaker, President of the McGill University Non-Academic Certified Association (MUNACA).
Fredericton airport workers reject arbitration
Striking PSAC members at the Fredericton airport are opposing their employer's attempt to force them off the picket line and into binding arbitration. The 25 workers have been on strike since February 13. The employer has requested binding arbitration by forcing a single arbitrator to choose between the union and the employer's package. The union is eager to reach a fair and equitable agreement, which also includes a negotiated Return to Work Protocol. However, it does not believe that can be achieved under the conditions laid out in the request.
Workers protest contracting out by Nunavut government
Over 40 PSAC/NEU members braved the snow and cold in Iqualuit on April 25 to send a message that they are fed up with the government of Nunavut contracting out their work.
The members, who are still without a new agreement after almost two years into the bargaining process, have given their union a strong strike mandate.
Striking workers at Salvation Army Booth Centre choose arbitration
Workers at the Salvation Army's Booth Centre in Ottawa decided to take their wage dispute to an arbitrated process. The decision to go to arbitration was made after a careful review of accomplishments during the strike period, and an assessment of the situation faced by Booth Centre clients. The workers were on strike for 76 winter days.
During the strike period, conditions at the Booth Centre deteriorated dramatically and workers were very concerned that shelter clients were not receiving a satisfactory level of care, service and safety.
Union files grievance with Parks Canada over layoff program
PSAC filed a policy grievance against Parks Canada over its voluntary layoff program which violates the Workforce Adjustment Appendix of the collective agreement.
On March 30, the day after the federal budget, Parks Canada sent a message to all employees inviting them to volunteer to be considered for lay-offs. Employees had until April 10 to enter the program.
Management's process has left hundreds of Parks employees confused about their choices, without access to critical and accurate information such as the impact of their decision on pension and severance.
Date Modified : 2012/06/06