CUPE Local 600 meets with Prince Albert members as contract negotiations continue

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Representatives from CUPE Local 600 met with union members in Prince Albert Monday to seek direction in an ongoing labour dispute with the provincial government.

CUPE Local 600 represents close to 385 workers in social services as well as in central services, the tradespeople, maintenance workers and plant operators who work in government-run building around the province.

In Prince Albert, CUPE represents employees of Prince Albert’s Community Living Service Delivery, a division of the ministry of social services, who help to deliver frontline care and support to some of the province’s most vulnerable, including people living with intellectual disabilities.

According to Justin Mercier, a staff representative from CUPE’s national office, the union and the provincial government have been at the bargaining table for about two years but came to an impasse on June 2019. Despite meeting with a mediator, the two sides realized they were too far apart for a mediator’s assistance.

“The bargaining committee has set up a tour to hit all the major areas of the province in an effort to reach out to the members, explain what’s been happening, get a feel as to what their options are going forward and what the main issues are at the table and get some direction to see where they want the bargaining committee to go,” Mercier said.

Wages, hours and professional fees are three of the issues separating the two sides.

“One of our issues is that our members haven’t seen a wage increase since 2013 and we’re falling further and further behind as the cost of living has risen significantly,” said Jacalyn Luterbach, president of Local 600.

“The employer is not willing to look at anything more than what they have tabled.”

Luterbach said they’re also looking for the employer to pay fees for registered professions who have dues to submit to provincial colleges.

“Another very significant issue we have at the table is that our crisis and transition homes and planned respite home workers have been subject to burnout in the workplace,” Luterbach said.

“This is coming as a result of a poor scheduling model where workers are working long stretches of days and nights in a row.”

The current scheduling model, Luterabach said, means workers have very little time to spend with their families, catch up on everyday tasks such as laundry and home maintenance, or even just visiting with family members in the evening or helping kids with homework.

Because so many employees are burning out, Luterbach said, there is an increase in sick time, overtime and overuse of relief staff.

“It’s getting to the point where the employer has had to mandate some of the junior staff to stay because people can’t keep up,” she said.

“the employer is saying they’re having trouble getting relief staff to answer the phone and we’re saying this is why they’re not answering the phone. It’s forcing people to have to work two shifts in a row,” Mercier added.

“These can be high-stress environments. You’re now looking at a 16-hour shift in this environment.”

CUPE asserts that they have provided other scheduling models and the reasoning behind them, but that the province has rejected the alternatives without providing any reasons why.

“We’ve been told it’s a matter of principle,” he said.

Though the union represents workers in a wide range of professions, Mercier said many seem pleased with the position the union is taking.

“There’s definitely a challenge to meet the needs of all of our members, and I think we’ve been successful with that. We had some social workers come to the table, some respite workers come to the table. It generally seemed like everyone was supportive of what we were trying to achieve,” he said.

Mercier said the province-wide tour is proving useful, and going forward they hope to have some direction as to where to go from here.

When reached for comment, the province provided a brief statement.

“We are aware that CUPE is holding information sessions with their members. We respect this is part of the collective bargaining process,” read a statement attributed to the Government of Saskatchewan

“We remain confident in the bargaining process and continue to hope for a negotiated settlement.”

The provincial government does not typically comment on ongoing contract negotiations.

*This is a corrected story. The story originally mistakenly attributed the comments of the provincial government to the Government of Canada.