Hospital workers fight against wage cuts

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

Nurses frustrated by a cap in wage increas- es, and diminished bargaining power; union anticipates exodus of nurses

A rally was held yesterday morning in front of La Verendrye General Hospital in Fort Frances in order to protest against wage cuts.

This comes after Ontario Premier Doug Ford passed a legislation to limit annual wage increases for three years to one per cent for many public employees. According to the pamphlet distributed during the rally, inflation is 3.6 per cent, which would mean a 2.6 per cent cut to wages in the first year alone.

Mitchell Carlson, president of CUPE Local 4807 participated in the rally. He said ever since the COVID-19 emergency orders the province had the right to circumvent their collective bargaining rights.

Carlson added that their rights have been violated by having some positions cancelled and sometimes combined with other positions, often adding more workload on one worker with no extra pay.

Hospital workers are organizing rallies across Ontario, to voice frustrations that their bargaining power has been cut by Bill 124. Wage increases have been capped at 1 per cent – a third of the current inflation rate. – Merna Emara photo

“We’re having a hard time recruiting any staff,” Carlson said. “We’re extremely short staffed in all departments, whether it’s on the nursing floor or maintenance. Job duties are getting downloaded onto them so their job description is getting larger without any extra help or additional pay for the added workload.”

The pamphlet distributed by CUPE states that some of the concession the hospital wants includes doubling the time it takes to post a job, removing access to exit or retirement packages unless you want to be laid off, reducing rights in contracting-out, removing the right to return to your old job when you post for a new one and taking away seniority as a major factor in getting the jobs.

“Everyone’s very stressed out and burnt out,” Carlson said. “And a lot of people want to depart this profession because of how they’re being treated. They say that their frontline people are the heroes, but they’re treating us like dirt and garbage.”

Louis Rodrigues, vice-president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU), said the Ontario government is not rewarding frontline workers for their sacrifices during the pandemic.

He said they will be doing rallies throughout the province, ending with the biggest one on Sept. 10, at Queen’s Park.

“This is about what they did during the pandemic,” Rodrigues said. “We want to make sure that we thank these people for their courage and their sacrifices and giving up weekends and working overtime.”

Rodrigues said they believe in their right and freedom to negotiate a collective agreement that looks after their wages. He said they previously had to go to an arbitrator to get N95 face masks when working with people with COVID-19.

“What they want to do is not compensate [frontline workers] for the work that they do,” Rodrigues said. “I believe that people in Ontario do recognize the value that these people have. It’s the government that’s imposing these restrictions.”

In order to bring awareness to their battle with their employer, Rodrigues has started rallies in Hamilton and Kenora. They want to remove Bill 124 and get their freedom, Rodrigues added.

“There’s PTSD amongst our members, and there’s no resources or no place to go with no way of us bargaining for something that’s going to have protection for them,” Rodrigues said. “We want to assure our members that we bargain centrally that the central bargaining committee is doing everything in their power, but it doesn’t look good for us.”

Rodrigues said unfortunately they do not have the right to strike, which makes it difficult because it leaves them at the mercy of an arbitrator.

“At the end of the day, we’ll take direction from our members on what’s next,” Rodrigues said. “I don’t know what the end result is. I just know that our members are pretty upset with the way things have turned out.”