Health science professionals urged to vote YES

After almost two months at the bargaining table, your HSA bargaining committee has achieved a tentative agreement for a four-year contract.

The HSA Board of Directors and your bargaining committee strongly recommend that you vote YES in favour of the contract, as it goes a long way toward addressing the key bargaining priorities identified by members.

One of the most important gains we have made in this agreement is the cost-shared Long Term Disability Plan.

It is critically important that every HSA member understand the significance of this achievement, and the thousands of dollars that it will put back into your pockets.

Background: Long Term Disability plan
Those of you who have been an HSA member for a long time will know that LTD has been an issue for many years.

In 1986, in exchange for a wage increase, HSA agreed to take over the LTD plan from the employer. This meant that you as employees were responsible for paying the premiums.

Since then, a combination of factors ... including increased utilization and poor market performance after 9/11 ... has caused the plans unfunded liability to grow, and as a result, HSA members now see three per cent of their gross wage deducted for premiums.

In 1998, negotiators secured funding to address a steadily increasing liability. But it was not until this round of negotiations that we had an opportunity to eliminate the plans debt ... and take the significant step of moving the plan back to the employer.

As many members are aware, the government set aside $1 billion as an incentive for unions signing contracts by March 31.

While signing bonuses were one option for that money, unions and employers were encouraged to use the fund to address other collective bargaining issues, and HSA determined that this was an ideal opportunity to address the Long Term Disability plan.

Under the tentative agreement, the government will pay $17 million to pay down the plans debt (also known as the unfunded liability).

In addition, instead of being responsible for 100 per cent of the premiums, members will now pay only 30 per cent of the premiums with the employer paying the remaining 70 per cent.

This shift is equivalent to an additional 3.7 ... 4.2 per cent increase over four years, depending on your regular earnings.

In real dollars, it means the following:

  • For an HSA member with regular earnings of $50,000 year ... this means a net savings of $1,100 per year, for each year of the contract.
  • For an HSA member with regular earnings of $60,000 year ... this means a net savings of $1,330 per year, for each year of the contract.
  • For an HSA member with regular earnings of $70,000 year ... this means a net savings of $1,550 per year, for each year of the contract.
  • For an HSA member with regular earnings of $80,000 year ... this means a net savings of $1,780 per year, for each year of the contract.

Signing bonus
In addition, all HSA members will receive a signing bonus of $2382. This amount will be pro-rated for part-time and casual employees.

Wage increases
The tentative agreement also includes a general wage increase.

Many of you will recall that in 2001, the provincial government imposed a wage split on HSA members. Forty per cent of HSA members (Schedule A) received a wage increase that was 8.2 per cent lower than the other 60 per cent of members (Schedule B).

HSA fought hard against the wage split, including taking illegal job action in protest. However, in the end, the Liberal government simply passed legislation imposing the split.

Since then, members have made it clear that they want the wage split rectified. In fact, this was one of the main bargaining priorities identified by members during bargaining proposal meetings.

As you can see from the tentative agreement, HSA has negotiated a general wage increase for everyone, totalling 6.9 per cent compounded over four years.

In addition, those members on Schedule A will receive a special adjustment that takes their wage increase to 11.2 per cent over four years.

Pharmacists, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists were identified by the employer as the professions currently facing the most severe shortages, so they will receive the special adjustment as well as a market adjustment in the first year, taking their total increase to 13.1 per cent over four years.

HSA recognizes that there are other professions where shortages exist. Thats why it was the bargaining teams goal to achieve the best possible general wage increase across the board, while also taking steps to rectify the 2001 split.

However, the unions bargaining team does not dictate unilaterally the terms of the settlement. The provincial government and the employer came into bargaining with a clear mandate to offer additional increases to those professions that they identified as the most difficult to fill ... in this case, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and pharmacists.

In fact, every public sector contract negotiated so far includes market adjustments. Contracts with an across-the-board increase were simply not an option this time.

The unions bargaining association has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with HEABC stating that should the employers find that further labour market adjustments are necessary, they can be implemented during the term of the agreement.

The HSA bargaining team has also made substantial progress on other important issues such as on-call and remuneration for telephone consultations. In some cases, the bargaining team was able to fix outstanding issues that have existed for years, such as the promotional glitch.

Vote YES!
HSAs negotiations were among the most complicated in the public sector. Unlike doctors, nurses or teachers, we negotiate on behalf of almost 100 different disciplines all facing unique issues and challenges. The outstanding issue of our LTD Plan added another layer of complexity.

But in the end, we achieved a contract that goes a long way toward addressing the three main bargaining objectives identified by members ... a wage increase, rectifying the 2001 wage split and returning the LTD plan to the employer.

It is important that members take the time to consider this contract in its entirety and not focus on one aspect in isolation.

With the substantial savings in LTD premiums, this is one of the most generous contracts negotiated so far and should be recognized as such.

The HSA board is very proud of what our negotiators have been able to achieve for the membership as a whole. We urge you to attend the ratification meeting at your facility where the contract will be discussed in more detail, and we strongly urge you to support this contract by voting YES.

Copies of the Report to Members on the Proposed Terms of Settlement will be distributed at ratification meetings. These booklets will also be available on the HSA website by Monday, March 27.

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