When I started making notes for this report, a couple of news agencies gave a few minutes of airtime to a filler story about a new cold virus infecting a few people in a single city in China. I was far more focused on trying to impress upon the Employer the importance of being very serious about the physical security of our members and recognizing the severe mental health strain inherent to our careers.
As I submit this report, the world is coming to terms with just how fragile our society really is. The importance of a strong social safety net has been thrust back into the spotlight, both the ways in which it keeps us safe, and for the massive holes 30 years of neoliberalism have eroded into things Canadians have held sacred. For many workers in Canada, this is the first time they have experienced real life-threatening danger at work; for others, this is simply a different threat on a different day. For too many of our members in Atlantic Canada, they fall into the second group.
Over my little more than a year as RVP, I have found myself being called time and again to address issues of security and mental health. Be it from direct threats of violence, or simply staff being worked into the dirt, the health and safety of our members is a constant source of struggle with the Department. The COVID-19 Pandemic put this into stark relief. Simply put, they just don’t get it! The most senior levels of our Department do not understand the inherent physical and psychological dangers that come from doing the work we do. They do not understand what it is like to walk into a home not knowing what you will encounter on the other side of the door. They do not understand what it is like to read accounts of horrific events – sometimes multiple times per day – and the fight to not carry that stain upon your soul home at the end of the day. They do not understand the struggle to move on to the next call as quickly as possible when the last caller was actively suicidal because of the delays plaguing the Department; delays for which the person answering the phone is personally blamed and told “It will be your fault.”
Instead they crow and ruffle their feathers because they have won an iPolitics award for mental health and were named a top employer by the Forbes 500. I don’t know about you, but I sure didn’t vote for them!
Since my last report, I was able to join the Newfoundland Area Offices’ Heath and Safety Committee as they received training provided under contract by the PSAC. To say that it was an enlightening experience for the Employer is an understatement. It I also an area where we must fortify our efforts in the future. Our very lives may depend on forging a Department that considers the health and safety of its employees as valuable as good press and shiny awards. To that end I attended the PSAC National Health & Safety Conference in December 2019.
In the past year I provided representation on 17 files ranging from Duty to Accommodate to issues of Harassment and Discrimination. I am happy to say that some were successfully resolved, but far too many remain unresolved as the Employer delays, denies, and disputes even the best medical information. With any luck recent changes to the senior ranks of management will breath some fresh life into a dark and dusty system that places authority in the hands of Labour Relations instead of the delegated decision maker.
As I close out this report, I want to take the opportunity to give a special commendation to two of my Local Presidents. The first is Sophie Maltais, President of Local 60023 in Campbellton. When she was elected last year, she was very new to Union Leadership and very unsure of her own abilities. I have had the honour to watch her grow into her role as she represents her members with confidence, intelligence, and compassion.
The other President deserving of special commendation is Jonathan Pippy, President of Local 80004 in Nova Scotia. Jonathan is an exceptionally impressive President! Following a critical security incident in his Office in October, Jonathan has gone toe-to-toe with all levels of Management on numerous occasions to aid National Office as we advocate for the health and safety of our members and important changes to how threats of physical violence are against our members are handled.
I thank all my Presidents and the members in Atlantic Canada for your continued support.
Regional Vice-President, Atlantic Region