Shannon Blum Reports
At the PSAC Convention in April I was honored to be voted in as Representative for Persons with Disabilities. I have been an activist for several years now and I’m excited about the new opportunities this position will allow to explore further the work we can do as a Union.
Over the last few years I have come to understand that as an employer, the Federal Government has much work to do in changing the mindset of it’s managers and supervisors towards people with different abilities. As an individual with an invisible disability I have personally experienced the stereo types and challenges of convincing people that yes I do have an illness, no I’m not just complaining when I ask for an accommodation and yes I will be a productive employee when provided with the unique requirements to accommodate my condition!
During my term, I have promised to champion our cause my fellow members! I must admit that I have not been as proactive as I wished, due in part to my own physical and mental challenges but I have not been idle either. Here is what I have done specific to this position so far:
- Represented 3 people in accommodation and return to work cases.
- Worked with 2 individuals who have decided to file human rights complaints.
- Worked closely with several individuals to get them mental health support after serious incidents in their home life and work life.
- Consulted with 2 other locals on issues specific to their cases, and I am traveling today to continue this work.
- Attended a “Facing Management” course.
- I have contacted PSAC about joining the working group on Mental Health that we negotiated in our collective agreement, for those that are in this group.
- I am working on a newsletter for distribution, hopefully soon.
One of the biggest challenges I see for this position is getting in contact with a sometimes reluctant group of people who self identify as a person with different abilities. So often we have been burned by this process that we don’t necessarily want others to know that we have unique challenges. I am hoping a newsletter to ALL Prairies members will allow some people to self identify to me, so that I can begin a distribution list and a way for us to reach out to each other.
I feel that it is important that I be available for our membership, and I’d like to make it very clear that I am here for you in every situation, from simply a person to listen and support you as you go through a tough situation all the way to standing with you while you fight for your rights. You are NOT alone!
February 19, 2018
This position has been somewhat of an eye opener! I will admit, that part of me thought that moving in this role would be similar to being an Area Council Representative, a different demographic but similar requirements. It has not been and fulfilling all the plans I had made, while maintaining all my other commitments has indeed proven to be a challenge. However I have had the privilege of seeing some of the work that goes on behind the scenes to prepare for PSAC events, the chance to help members at other sites, and a view of the larger issues that are ongoing at other sites.
Here is a brief history of what I’ve been involved with during my term in 2017.
Return to Work and Accommodation. As anyone with a disability knows this is an ongoing problem for all Government Departments. I was acutely aware that it was often challenging in my own work location, but it’s been interesting learning the intricacies of working in other departments as well. To date I’ve helped with representing approximately 20 individuals at 4 different locations in person, as well as advising countless others. This area will continue to be a focus for me.
April 2017 – I attended the PRC pre-convention meetings and also the PSAC Prairies convention.
July – Participated in a PRC teleconference meeting and attended the USGE national Convention, where I was also elected Alternative Regional Vice President – CSC Saskatchewan.
Sept – I attended a PRC teleconference where some hard decisions were made, and where I was reminded once again that disabilities are often not considered at all, or very slightly unless the individual is articulate in expressing their needs and/or has an advocate. To my chagrin sometimes this is still not enough. We have a ways to go my friends, even within PSAC.
I also attended training and a National Executive meeting for my component.
Oct – I was able to join the Edmonton Human Rights Committee meeting via teleconference. We had a fair bit of difficulty technology wise, but with good humour on all sides was able to overcome. At this meeting we discussed the hardships involved with some seemingly arbitrary rules, and also made plans for a dream catcher event, which was ultimately successful thanks to the dedication of just a few people. This committee is small but mighty and deserves recognition for an amazing job!
Nov – November was a crazy month! I can honestly say some days I woke up and forgot where I was! I attended Local Officer Training, the USJE Bargaining Conference, worked with staff from the National and Regional PSAC Offices to review sites for the 2021 PSAC Triannual Convention, visited OOHL in Maple Creek and attended Leadership Training.
I’d like to just take a minute to recognize just how much work goes into reviewing a site for a PSAC event, because I know I for one was completely clueless. The checklist just for disability accommodation is 4 pages long! Sites are reviewed by no less then 3 individuals who all report back on their findings and work together to (hopefully) not miss any important detail. It was fascinating for me to consider all the different challenges that people have, from carpets that wheelchairs can move over, to scent free floors in hotels, to sight assisted elevators and that only touches on a tiny margin of what is considered. It truly is essential that people completely and honestly fill out the needs section of their registration forms. If nothing else I walked away from this experience with the understanding that there is simply no other way to ensure that the needs of all individuals can be met. I encourage you therefore, even if you have an accommodation that you “might” not need that day, say for example some days you need extra time to move between locations, or some days you can walk and others you can’t. Take the time to have a conversation with the PSAC staff in charge of the event, and please fill out the needs section. You are not judged on your needs! I saw extremely caring individuals doing the best that they can based on past data, but as we all know, each disability is unique with it’s own challenges and needs. In this way your needs can be considered and addressed.
Dec – I attended my first National Human Rights committee meeting. I was both pleased and disappointed with the experience. It’s difficult to get nearly enough time for each need of the committee in the time period allotted, however I do believe that we need to be more understanding of everyone’s needs when working in a group that large. Our smaller group sessions I felt were very productive and resulted in plans that can be implemented. I do feel that the decision to tag it on the Leadership Training, while fiscally responsible, was not successful in application. Many members were already exhausted from long days, some like myself and others were dealing with their own physical and mental challenges of being away from home and routine for an extended period and lastly it resulted in a day being shaved off the time we had to meet. This left many reports not presented, and most limited to only 5 minutes. Not nearly long enough to be complete and no time for Q &A.
Jan 2018 – Unfortunately due to my own disability I was unable to participate in work or union. It’s been challenging knowing that there is needs going unmet and people unsupported, but that if I do not look after myself I will not be able to help anyone else either.
In the end what I’ve taken away so far is:
- We may have come a long way, but complacency breeds contempt and we have a long way to go yet.
- Accommodations, and return to work programs are almost ALWAYS challenging and they do not need to be.
- We need to find a way to ensure that the information of people who self identify can be shared with the people representing them. Each new PRC representative must make their own contact list over again, potentially every 3 years the process starts again, and I do not believe we should depend on sharing between past incumbents because PRC members are elected and not everyone handles losing an election well.
- If I do not look after myself, I cannot help ANYONE.
Until next time my friends.
President USJE Locals 40023, 4A023, 4B023
PSAC-PRC Representative for persons with disabilities
USJE – Alternative RVP – CSC – Saskatchewan
I often struggle with what to submit to these PRC reports. I recognize that there are specific reporting requirements of PRC council members, which are necessary, but I wonder what an average member would prefer to see. Thus I’m going to minimize the list of activities that I’ve participated in, and instead focus on what I feel our members need to know from the lessons I’ve learned over the last year.
Regarding activities, I have been involved with several training opportunities, both through PSAC and through my component USJE. I’ve had the privilege of participating in leadership training and forums, Health and Safety committees at local, regional and national levels, participating in the steering committee for informal conflict resolution within CSC, the distinct privilege of representing the Prairies in PSAC’s new Members Story phoenix video as well as news captions a few times and most importantly I’ve had the pleasure of working with individuals in several different locations, components and
DCL’s to offer advice in accommodation and return to work. To date I believe I’ve been involved with approximately 25 cases directly and several more indirectly through offering advice and materials to local executive.
With very few exceptions, accommodation and returning to work after illness or injury is a hardship for the individual. Our employer stressing inclusion and treating each other well, but doesn’t display these traits when dealing with employees. Much of the cause of this, in my opinion is systemic policy which is distinctly difficult to manage when employees are differently abled. For example, the new CSC policy on Duty to Accommodate feels the need to “advise” the employee on more than one occasion that they may not be happy with their accommodation, and that the right to provide employment options within your limitations lies exclusively with the employer, regardless of the fact that many studies have conclusively proven that working together, and allowing the employee to provide knowledge of their abilities is much more effective.
Another challenge is the continued “musical chairs” that has occurred at many work sites among senior and middle managers and supervisors as a result of career and succession planning. These individuals are “acting” and often have no training in duty to accommodate, or very little. While I don’t find that most are actively malicious in their lack of accommodation, I do find that they are working off perceptions of what they “feel” is correct. This often results in unclear direction, misunderstanding as to what is acceptable behaviour and what is not, and even occasionally breaches of privacy as they discuss disabilities with coworkers, colleagues and the next “actor” that will be filling the role after them. I worked on a case where the individual has had a new supervisor every 4 months. Not only did they have to explain everything each time, there has now been so many individuals from the worksite in that role that there is no longer even the illusion of privacy for that individual.
Far too often a phone call to the union comes from the employee and then only after much heartache and sometimes even further injury. I would like to encourage anyone going through an accommodation process or who is returning to work, to reach out to their union at the start of the process. That way you have both an advocate to fight for you in the time when you are most vulnerable, and someone to stand beside you as you face the challenges of your reality. Also in the coming PSAC – Prairies drive to collect home contact information, please, check the box saying your information can be shared with me! It would be ever so helpful to know whom I’m representing and have a way to communicate with them directly!