REPORT OF THE REGIONAL EXECUTIVE VICE-PRESIDENT, PRAIRIES
TO THE NATIONAL BOARD OF DIRECTORS
June 6–9, 2017
This report covers the period from the last NBOD meeting in February.
The 7th Prairie Region Triennial Convention was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba from April 21–23, 2017 with a registered total of 336 in attendance, including 296 delegates, 7 guests, 4 NBoD, and 29 Observers.
Delegates passed 18 different resolutions throughout the weekend. Those regarding the Prairie Region Bylaws will be dealt with regionally, while others will be forwarded to the PSAC National Triennial Convention. Some of the resolutions carried include: a call to increase funding for the Regional Health & Safety Conferences; a call to amend the process for area council elections for National Triennial Convention delegates; and a call to lobby the federal government with regards to legislation for survivors of domestic violence and legislation for historical DNA samples for missing persons.
An emergency resolution was unanimously passed calling for all locals of the PSAC to promote and support the ongoing Respect Vegreville campaign and stand with CEIU Local 30876 members to fight against the closure of the Case Processing Centre in Vegreville, Alberta.
Elections for all regional council positions (with the exception of the eight area council reps that were elected prior to Convention) were held throughout the weekend. More than half of the 23 Prairie Region Council representatives are new to the council and bring with them new perspectives and ideas. I look forward to working with the new council to plan our way forward and ensure continued success and solidarity within the Prairies.
Guest speakers at Convention included Sister Benson, CLC President Hassan Yussuff and MFL President Kevin Rebeck. We also held the Rally for Workers on the Friday, which featured these speakers, as well as Tom Lindsey, Official Opposition Labour Critic for Manitoba.
The rally brought out hundreds of Convention delegates to protest austerity agendas and attacks on labour. With the help and support of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, many other unions and union members from across Winnipeg came out to show their support. Various media outlets attended and covered the rally on the evening news.
The day ended with a celebration of Judy Shannon—a passionate educator, dedicated activist, and Prairies Regional Education Officer, who dedicated 23 years of services to the PSAC. Oneil Carlier, Judy's long-time friend and colleague, gave a touching tribute, which was followed by a short video of members sharing their memories of Judy.
We also announced the PRC’s decision to set aside $30,000 from deferred revenue to establish a memorial scholarship in Judy Shannon’s name. The scholarship will annually fund one participant to attend the Prairie School for Union Women. Judy had been an advocate and facilitator for the PSUW for years and the scholarship will honour her dedication to education and passion for the Prairie School for Union Women.
To kick off our banquet evening, delegates had exclusive, after-hours-access to four galleries at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, including: What are Human Rights, Indigenous Perspectives, Canadian Journeys, and Protecting Rights in Canada.
Prior to dinner, delegates mingled in the Garden of Contemplation in the atrium of the museum. They also participated in the "Selfies for Social Justice" photo booth by taking photos of themselves with various human rights themed posters and filling out blank posters that asked, "What Do Human Rights Mean to You?"
Julia Peristerakis, a curator at the museum and PSAC member, gave a special welcome to the museum and the Convention Host Committee facilitated a fabulous silent auction with great prizes. They raised $3,000 throughout the night, which will be donated to the Merchants Corner to help create affordable student housing in Winnipeg’s inner city.
The night finished with the Prairie Voice Awards, which are presented to members who have provided exemplary service and have been role models or mentors. The objective is to recognize PSAC members for their commitment to the labour movement and work that benefits PSAC members in the Prairies. Eight members in total received an award, including Sister Benson who was awarded the Lifetime of Labour award for her dedication to our union and union members.
I want to acknowledge the staff for their work leading up to Convention and throughout the weekend to ensure everything ran as smoothly and efficiently as it did. Convention wouldn't happen if it weren't for the staff involved and their coordinated efforts, so a big thank you goes out to all of the staff that contributed to a successful Convention.
Photos of all Convention activities have been posted on the PSAC Prairie Region Facebook page and on the PSAC Prairies website.
Between March 6 and April 6, over 130 ratification vote meetings were held in more than 40 different locations across the Prairie Region. This was a huge undertaking for PSAC staff and a massive commitment for bargaining team members. I want to thank all of the staff and bargaining team members who made it possible and played a role in the positive outcome of the ratification vote.
While these agreements achieved some significant breakthroughs on important issues, one outstanding issue weighing heavy on our members is the Phoenix pay system.
In April, it was announced that Public Services Minister Judy Foot is taking an indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons. Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr—based in Winnipeg just minutes from our Convention hotel—is filling in during her absence.
While we didn’t have time on the agenda to hold a rally at his office, Sister Benson and I had the opportunity to meet with him and express our disappointment in this government for not implementing a $75 million contingency fund to assist departments and agencies in dealing with the Phoenix pay system. I shared some of the heartbreaking realities our members have faced as a result of this government’s decision to flip the switch on Phoenix when we knew it wasn’t ready. We reinforced the need to get more staff and to make sure all staff have the training and support they need to ensure that our members get an accurate paycheque.
He fully acknowledged this is a government problem and they have a responsibility to fix it. He said fixing Phoenix is top priority and they are prepared to listen and work with us. We said we intend to hold him to his commitment. Our members have endured long enough and we need to see progress.
Saskatchewan’s latest provincial budget aims to balance the books on the backs of the province’s lowest earners, including seniors and students. The Saskatchewan Party’s budget outlines extensive cuts to critical programs and services, such as a 5% reduction in base operational funding for post-secondary institutions; a 6.7% cut to Saskatchewan’s education budget; and the amalgamation of the province’s 12 health regions to a single authority.
A devastating blow was also dealt to Saskatchewan’s rural communities with the closure of the Saskatchewan Transit Company. Passenger service will end May 31 for the provincial bus company, after more than 70 years of continuous service to 253 communities. Over 220 people will lose their jobs as a result of the closure of this Crown Corporation.
Several rallies have been held to show support for public services and stand up against cuts, austerity and this government’s misplaced priorities, including one on March 8 and May 31. I was in attendance at the Saskatchewan Legislature on April 26 when the government passed Bill 40, which allows for the sale of up to 49% of Saskatchewan’s Crown Corporations. Union members took direct action by silently standing and turning our backs to Sask Party MLA’s as they voted yes to Bill 40. Despite the obvious setback, we will continue to work with the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and other unions to fight back against the government and their misguided priorities to privatize our Crowns.
The SFL has launched phase two of their Own It campaign to say no to the Sask Party government’s budget cuts to public services and their privatization agenda for Saskatchewan Crowns. We’ve supported the campaign since day one, and a PSAC member working for Casino Regina was interviewed as part of the campaign sharing how privatization would affect her and her family. We’ve posted the video to the PSAC Prairies YouTube channel. You can also find out more about the Own It campaign at ownyoursaskatchewan.ca.
On March 20, Brian Pallister’s government introduced two bills that attack workers and their fundamental labour rights. The legislation calls for wide-reaching restrictions on bargaining and collective agreements and provides broad powers for the government.
Bill 28 mandates a two-year wage freeze, followed by maximum annual increases of 0.75% and 1.0% in years three and four. This applies to all employees employed in or by: the provincial government; a health organization—including Deer Lodge Centre where over 500 PSAC members work; post-secondary institutions—including the University of Winnipeg and Brandon University where hundreds of PSAC members are employed as academic capacity workers; and several other agencies, authorities and organizations. Instead of allowing savings and efficiencies to be found at the bargaining table, this government is imposing their agenda and mandating that it has to be on wages.
Bill 29 provides for the creation of seven bargaining units for each health region. This will force unions to re-organize their own members and is a blatant attempt to pit unions against one another. Despite having only just begun discussions with labour, the government felt the need to ram through legislation, making it very clear they’re not interested in what we have to say. Members should be entitled to stay with the union that they chose and we will do everything to support our members at Deer Lodge Centre who are directly impacted by this attack.
PSAC is actively working with other unions in Manitoba. Our priority is to ensure that members continue to be represented and that we stand in solidarity with other unions. On May 8, I presented to the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba Standing Committee on Legislative Affairs regarding Bill 29: The Health Sector Bargaining Unit Review Act. We have seen in other jurisdictions where representation votes are time consuming, costly and divisive. There is no need for this process to be conducted in Manitoba. While we do not agree that bargaining unit restructure is necessary to ensure quality patient care, we have participated with other health care unions in Manitoba to come to the table prepared to work with government and have presented an alternative solution to meet their concerns.
That same day, we also made a submission to the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba Standing Committee on Social and Economic Development regarding Bill 28: The Public Services Sustainability Act. Bill 28 will impact over 1,000 PSAC members and we called on the provincial government to withdraw the legislation and respect union members' constitutionally protected right to collective bargaining.
Earlier this year in February, we also submitted an analysis of issues related to the Workers Compensation Act in Manitoba. From November 15, 2016 to February 15, 2017, the Workers Compensation Act Legislative Review Committee 2016 asked for input from workers, employers, labour unions, industry and safety associations, key stakeholders and interested Manitobans to get a thorough understanding of the issues in order to prepare a final report for the government's consideration. The PSAC Prairie Region submitted an analysis of the issues for consideration on behalf of the more than 8,000 PSAC members living and working in Manitoba. Our submission is posted on the PSAC Prairie Region website.
On March 28, I attended a Labour Liaison meeting coordinated by the Alberta Federation of Labour with Premier Rachel Notley and the cabinet. The Alberta government is currently undertaking a review of the provincial Employment Standards Act. The Lethbridge Area Council President attended a community consultation to provide feedback for updating provincial labour standards. We are actively participating with the AFL to prepare for the next provincial election in 2019.
On February 13, I joined PSAC/CEIU member and Respect Vegreville campaign lead Michelle Henderson to meet with Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and his staff in Ottawa. We discussed how devastating the closure will be for the community and extended an invitation to visit Vegreville and meet with staff and community members. We also met with Shannon Stubbs, Conservative MP for Lakeland, and Jenny Kwan, NDP MP for Vancouver East and Vice-Chair on the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, who both expressed support for the Case Processing Centre to stay in Vegreville.
One month later, the Immigration Minister’s staff sent a letter to PSAC reaffirming the department's plan to close the Vegreville CPC and move it to Edmonton. In response, Sister Benson wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemning him for "betraying rural communities." She also sent letters to all 179 Liberal MPs asking for their support, and a letter to the 39 members of the federal government's National Rural Caucus, which was created to help the government recognize the unique challenges that exist for small, rural communities. Attached to the letter was a fact sheet, which countered some of the Minister's own arguments with facts from the union and the town.
A table was set up at the Alberta Federation of Labour Convention in Edmonton on April 27–29 and information was available at the recent CLC Convention in Toronto.
On April 19, members received official notification of the relocation, although management has denied this is a workforce adjustment scenario. A rally is being planned for Edmonton in May with a focus on pressuring the federal Liberals to reverse this decision. Visit respectvegreville.ca to read the fact sheet, the correspondence with the Minister, and to take part in the online action.
Support Our Port
Despite continued pressure, no information has been shared by the multinational corporation, OmniTrax, regarding the announced sale of the Port of Churchill. Media reports indicate a sale may be imminent but no confirmation has been provided and there has been no response from the provincial or federal government on our demand to nationalize the Port. We are still currently in negotiations and seeking dates to return to the table.
International Women’s Day
Every year on March 8, union sisters take part in events and actions to celebrate and commemorate the movement for women’s rights. This year, regional women’s committees found new and creative ways to mark the occasion.
In Edmonton, the RWC sent out a women’s day quiz to all locals in Northern Alberta. The questions came from the PSAC Works for Women handbook and the first prize was lunch with Sister Benson. Sisters in Red Deer also planned an activity for IWD with the Women’s Outreach Centre.
Members of the Lethbridge and District Area Council supported the Lethbridge Regional Women’s Committee’s movie screening of Girl Rising. The movie night was held at the Lethbridge Public Library and showcased stories of nine girls from developing countries overcoming great obstacles to obtain an education.
The Calgary Regional Women’s Committee partnered with the Women’s Centre of Calgary, the Calgary District Labour Council and other unions to host an International Women’s Day event. For the second year, the event was held at The Women’s Centre of Calgary and was the largest IWD event yet at the Women’s Centre, with about 250 in attendance. PSAC members set up a table with an interactive, spinning prize wheel, featuring questions about women in Alberta labour. Prizes included gift cards, bath and body gift baskets, and fresh fruit baskets. UFCW also contributed water bottles, lanyards, and lip balm.
To mark International Women's Day, members of the Calgary and Lethbridge Regional Women's Committees released the final postcard in their campaign for universal childcare. The committees' regional campaign encourages local MPs and MLAs in the Prairies to take action on the issue of child care and work together to create a national child care program. Visit nomorefairytales.ca for more information and to participate in the online action.
Committees in the Community
The Edmonton RWC launched a grocery card campaign to raise money for senior women and hopes to donate the cards to assist senior women with limited income. Members of the Edmonton RWC also attended a session on Inclusiveness and Privilege held during the AFL convention and I was honored to be part of a panel discussing what inclusiveness means in the union context.
Sisters from the Lethbridge RWC served on the organizing committee for the local solidarity event of the Global Women’s March on Washington in January. Members of the Lethbridge and District Area Council were also in attendance.
In February, the Lethbridge Regional Women’s Committee organized and sponsored a learn to crochet event. Local crocheters met with newcomers to Canada from Syria to teach crochet. RWC members provided instructions, yarn, hooks, and snacks. The first event was so successful that the group now meets monthly.
Members of the Lethbridge and District Area Council attended the Amnesty International Letter Writing Circle in February. Participants joined the Canadian Civil Liberties Association to write to the federal government about several issues, including: honouring international law obligations regarding the U.S. travel ban; closing the funding gap to ensure safety and support for Indigenous women and girls escaping violence; and ending the underfunding of child and family services in First Nations communities.
The Calgary Area Council held an open house for members to celebrate the 50th anniversary of PSAC. They held the event outside of the regional office in an attempt to create greater access and boost participation of the membership.
In Saskatoon, members from the Area Council laid a wreath at the April 28th event in the community in honour of the National Day of Mourning.
In Winnipeg, the Area Council participated in the annual May Day rally and march, sponsored by the Winnipeg Labour Council.
A big congratulations to our bargaining team at the University of Winnipeg for achieving their first ever collective agreement for student workers in the academic capacity on campus, including markers, teaching assistants, lab demonstrators, and tutors. Meanwhile, the University of Winnipeg Academic Research Assistants unit continue negotiations for a first collective agreement. The Royal Canadian Mint’s Winnipeg Protective Services Officers also ratified their first collective agreement on March 1.
Negotiations continue with the Port of Churchill. Bargaining is also ongoing at the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development, where the collective agreement expired August 2015. Notice to bargain has been issued for the SRG Security Resource Group and Edmonton Airport GBU, where both collective agreements expired on December 31, 2016.
The Casino Regina collective agreement also expired December 31, 2016. Notice to bargain has been issued and management has advised the local and negotiator of the government’s wage hold for 2017-2018. The Casino is included in the government’s announcements, but we are committed to negotiating a collective agreement in good faith. While PSAC as the bargaining unit was advised, we are waiting to see what the employer tables when negotiations begin.
Negotiations continue for a first collective agreement for the University of Saskatchewan Academic Capacity unit. We’re still uncertain how the provincial government’s mandate will affect negotiations. The University of Saskatchewan Post Docs unit are also preparing their bargaining package and negotiations are ongoing at Brandon University.
The notice to bargain has been issued for the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corp. Negotiations continue at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, with the main priority being precarious work for front line workers. The bargaining package is being finalized for Deer Lodge Centre, but we’re still unsure at this time how the provincial government’s wage freeze will impact negotiations. We’ve applied for conciliation with the Winnipeg Airport Authority where the issues of privatization and contracting out have been predominant in this round of negotiations.
Congratulations to the PSAC members working for Treasury Board on ratifying new collective agreements that contain no concessions for four bargaining units. Now we must show our support for the border services group (FB Group) as they continue to fight for respect of their critical public safety duties.
Organizing efforts are also ongoing throughout the Prairies to coincide with the national PSAC/USGE campaign to represent Civilian Members of the RCMP.
Regional Executive Vice-President
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