I feel like I should be carrying a bright neon sign with the words “Houston, we have a problem.”
Mental health has become a major issue in my Region. Some offices have fostered a toxic environment for decades, and old habits die very hard. However, it is the present and the future that present the greatest challenges. The Department’s “Onboarding” and training process is deeply flawed. Time and again I am speaking to new employees who are feeling overwhelmed by the workload and lack of proper training for the jobs being asked of them. “This is not what I signed up for!” is a common refrain. While the Department has made repeated commitments to a 25:1 ratio for Case Managers, that is simply not the reality for most of our Atlantic members. It is breaking them down. The VSA Guided Support program has been rolled out very inconsistently, with many VSAs stating that they simply do not know what is expected of them. And the less said about the HAS realignment the better! Simply put, the Department is burning through our members like firewood, demanding that they burn hotter for longer, all the while ignoring that our members are being consumed.
As of the writing of this report, I have 13 active files, several of which have been active for more than a year. (When the previous sentence was originally written in late September, the number was 9. It keeps growing!) Most of the cases are complex Duty to Accommodate files involving comorbid physical and mental health issues. There are also several workplace violence issues in my Region as well, although the Department and I disagree on what qualifies for that designation. In order to meet the demands of the workload in my Region I have added a second Union Day per week to my schedule – much to the displeasure of the Department. But even that does not remove the need for early mornings, late nights, and at least a half dozen hours every weekend working to meet the need of my members. Maintaining a work/life balance is a struggle.
I will say that I have an excellent team of Local Presidents supporting me. Our monthly teleconferences are very lively, full of informed discussion and collaboration. But each of them has also expressed deep concern that just as UVAE is moving forward, the Department seems to be quickly regressing. All have expressed increased difficulty with Management, born out of a far more restrictive interpretation of policy and the Collective Agreement. In several instances the Employer has refused to allow LMCC preparation during work time, contrary to Article 14 of the Collective Agreement. One of my Presidents recently told me that they have found that they must communicate with the A/AD via email only as personal conversations have become too complicated and “twisted.” I believe that the recent restructuring of the Department, including the appointment of several new managers and reassignment of others is one contributing factor.
The main stumbling block is “Labour Relations”. Who would have thought that a minor change in title a few years back would have such a massive impact on the services provided? I have had several VSTMs express their concerns over the quality of the advice they are being provided. The timeliness of having their questions answered is also getting worse, which in turn allows issues between Management and our members get worse and fester. In other cases, the Employer is unwilling to discuss anything with me or Local Officers unless Labour Relations is on the line. Not only does this make scheduling unbearably difficult (and further annoys my own Manager beyond belief!), but it completely removes any possibility of an informal discussion. While a few LR Officers have gone above and beyond to help my members, I have encountered far more who are immediately confrontational and uninterested in collaboration. “Victory” is life in LR it seems.
I hope these problems are unique to Atlantic. If they are National in scope, then we have very serious problems indeed.
Regional Vice-President, Atlantic Region