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From the Desk of the President: November 2022

Hearing from you

After two years of the COVID pandemic, we have been returning to on-site visits. Through the summer and fall, I had the pleasure of talking to members at worksites throughout the province, from UHNBC, BC Cancer (Prince George), and the Prince George Correctional Facility to CDCs in Dawson Creek and Kamloops and Royal Inland Hospital, as well as a multi-site BBQ in Kelowna with Kelowna General Hospital, BC Cancer (Kelowna) and our newest HSA members at Baptist Housing.  I have also been visiting sites within Metro Vancouver, including Lions Gate Hospital, UBC Hospital, Royal Columbian Hospital and Burnaby Hospital.  I will continue to visit sites to hear the about the concerns you face.

Whether it is virtual or in-person, the opportunity to speak with you ensures that your union’s leadership has a strong understanding of the issues you face on the job every day. The universal issue raised by members over the past few months has been the need to take action on shortages to strengthen our health care and community social services. 

The role of your Board of Directors is to represent your issues and concerns in setting the priorities for our union. While we know from our own workplaces about the issues important to our colleagues, we have a broader responsibility to listen to members across the province. Every member has a voice in this union, and both I and your regional directors welcome your feedback.

Regional meetings – September and October 2022

We have just wrapped up our Regional Meetings, one-day meetings held across the province to provide updates on the work that HSA is doing.  Chaired by your Regional Directors, the meetings are an opportunity to engage in discussions about the issues affecting your worksite, and to network with members at other worksites. After holding the Regional Meetings virtually in 2021, going back to an in-person format was a great experience. 

In addition to giving reports, I was able to talk with members and get a sense of the amazing and dedicated people that you all are.  You have all worked so hard and so diligently through the pandemic. Personally, many side conversations also provided insight into who you are as people outside of your professions.  We all have families, hobbies, or volunteer in our communities on a wide range of activities.  It was fascinating to learn about that side of your lives.

September Board of Directors Meeting

The Board of Directors met in September and reviewed the annual membership survey responses.  The results guide decision-making by the Board during the bargaining process.  An overwhelming majority of you are experiencing shortages worse than ever before and addressing them along with wages are the top priorities in bargaining.  The Board also approved resolutions to be submitted to the 2022 BC Fed Convention in November, discussed a large number of policy changes submitted by the COPS committee, and set the dates for the 2023 HSA Convention (April 19-21, with pre-convention workshops on April 18.)

Racial Justice Committee

Members of the BIPOC caucus met to draft the terms of reference for our new Racial Justice Committee.  It took some time, but I think we found a way to do our work that breaks the mold of traditional power structures and ensures that all voices can be heard.  Once the terms of reference are in place, we hope to begin selecting members to serve on the committee in 2023.

Public Sector Bargaining Update

Public sector bargaining for many of the unions across BC is well under way, with a growing number of unions reaching new agreements under the BC government’s “Shared Recovery Mandate”.  Early in the fall, both the BCGEU and HEU members ratified collective agreements that include a wage increases over three years for all members, and just last week the BC Teachers Federation came to a tentative agreement.

This is a significant achievement compared to where we were just a few months ago in June, when the members of the BCGEU voted 95 per cent to support striking to back contract demands.  This led to tactical strike action in August, which included a slowing of negotiation at other tables in a demonstration of solidarity. Quickly thereafter, different unions saw a significant increase in the wage proposals from government, and were able to find agreement on enough issues to reach a deal.

We continue to work with our partners in the labour movement on coordinating efforts on multiple fronts, including our negotiators, our communications teams, and leadership. I meet regularly with the presidents of all the public sector unions involved in bargaining in BC.  Working together on multiple levels has sent a strong message to government that we are united. In case you missed it, take a look at our joint ad.

HSA Bargaining

HSA members are covered by four major agreements -- the Health Science Professionals Bargaining Association (HSPBA) collective agreement, the Community Bargaining Association (CBA) collective agreement, the Community Social Services Bargaining Association (CSSBA) collective agreement, and the Nurses Bargaining Association (NBA) collective agreement.

HSA leads negotiations at the HSPBA bargaining table, and just last week the bargaining committee reached a tentative agreement. I want to thank the Bargaining Committee for all their hard work fighting for gains for HSPBA members. HSA's labour relations staff are currently reviewing the details of the tentative agreement and preparing explanations and background information on key points. Soon, we will share a comprehensive report and FAQs for all members followed by briefings for stewards. We will also hold a series of telephone town halls to give HSPBA members an opportunity to ask questions before the vote is held.

Members of the 2021/22 HSPBA Bargaining Committee

Staff negotiators and member representatives represent HSA members at the CSSBA (community social services) and CBA (community health) tables. Bargaining is still in progress for members in those agreements, although unfortunately there remains significant disagreement with the employer at both tables. While bargaining continues at the CBA table, progress is stalling, and contract talks have had to be suspended altogether at the CSSBA table. The workers who provide community social services and community health deserve provide vital care to some of our most vulnerable in society. We’ll continue to support our bargainers as the process unfolds at these tables.

Our registered psychiatric nurses (RPNs) are covered by the NBA, where BCNU is the lead union. Bargaining is now beginning to get underway; as talks progress updates will be shared via email and posted to our website at: https://www.hsabc.org/contracts-and-bargaining/bargaining-20212022

Regardless of your bargaining association, if you are not receiving updates by email, please make sure you are signed up on HSA’s email list: https://www.hsabc.org/update. You can also check the HSA website for all the updates https://www.hsabc.org/contracts-and-bargaining/bargaining-20212022

Core Member Engagement Team

The Core Member Engagement Team (CMET) has been hard at work, visiting sites and meeting with members and helping to support steward teams. This program funds six HSA members to take union leave from their jobs to support union activities.  This year’s focus has been on union orientations for new members to provide fundamental information about what it means to be part of HSA. Through the pandemic, many employers stopped doing in-person general staff orientations, and this made it difficult for our steward teams to meet with new members.  CMET members have reviewed and revised our orientation materials, and built a new and better way to get the message out to new members. 

Government Relations

I continue to advocate for our members with the provincial government, even while bargaining is actively taking place. In July, I met with Labour Minister Harry Bains to talk about expanding presumptive coverage for psychological injuries for workers, including our members.  When our front-line workers get the help they need to return to work, that helps address the workforce shortages that we experience.

We also continue to advocate for members while the Ministry of Children and Family Development moves forward with their plan for Family Connection Centres (FCC). The incredible HSA members who work at Child Development Centres address the critical needs of Children and Youth with Special Needs (CYSN) throughout the province.  This area has not seen a significant funding boost for nearly a decade, and families struggle with long wait lists for early intervention therapies, many of which are provided by HSA physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, supported child care consultants, and others. 

While one aim of the FCC program is to reduce the amount of administrative burden on the ministry, it will also centralizes services. We believe this could strain the capacity to provide programming through limitations on physical space, and potentially break the continuity of care as some families may have to change from individualized therapy to group care. There are even more issues that we have identified in consultation with members who will be impacted by this plan. We will continue to get answers and ensure that HSA is a key player in advising the Ministry on the best plan to provide these specialized services for CYSN.

We also are engaged in discussions with the Ministry of Health about the newly released Health Human Resources (HHR) plan.  This plan has four key pillars for health care workers: Retain, Redesign, Recruit and Train.  This is a multi-year strategy with 70 specific points that is aimed at guiding policy decisions to address the shortages impacting our members and the health care systems worldwide as the demand for our skilled labour is increase across the entire world.  Read more about the strategy here.

On October 11, I attended the BC Health Coalition’s Better Care for Seniors Accountability Assembly.  This meeting between Health Minister Adrian Dix and over 400 attendees representing various organizations included HSA, and was meant to advocate for significant investments and reforms in long-term care. A range of health care workers and seniors’ care advocates shared stories about seniors’ care through the pandemic, the impact of the government’s pandemic response to their patients and the workers who put their lives at risk to care for them before COVID vaccines were available.  Issues that were raised included standardization of care across facilities, use of for-profit providers, and expanding home care support. You can read more about the assembly here.

Affordable Housing and Local Elections

Access to affordable housing is a significant issue that many of our members and British Columbians face.  Also on October 11, HSA hosted an online forum with Thom Armstrong from the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC, Victoria Barclay of Women Transforming Cities and Mark Piron, an HSA member and staff at the Kettle Friendship Society.  We reviewed the current context of the housing crisis in BC; and solutions for people in their early-, mid-, and late-career stages.  Finally, we looked also looked at housing solutions for the clients that many HSA members served.  It was a very engaging conversation and was intended to help HSA members understand the housing crisis as they made their decisions in the municipal elections.

Through their work on different labour councils, HSA members interviewed potential candidates across BC to help the electorate to identify candidates who support keeping services public, having inclusive schools and will advocate for affordable housing strategies.  Regardless of the election results, I thank all the HSA members who ran as candidates in local elections and showed leadership within their communities.

Professional Associations

In addition to our direct conversations with government, we also meet regularly with the professional associations that some of you belong to.  At our meeting in June, we had a good discussion about our submission to the Select Standing Committee on the 2023 Budget. The issues we called attention to were echoed by the professional associations that made submissions to the government’s budget consultation: that wages have not kept up, and this impacts retention and recruitment, and the high workloads that correspond with shortages continue to exacerbate the problem.  By delivering the same message to the committee from different voices, we are reinforcing that the provincial budget must address these chronic and growing issues of recruitment and retention for the services British Columbians depend on.

Young Workers

Are you an HSA member who is 35 years of age or younger? Consider becoming involved with our Young Workers. A group of dedicated individuals who discuss and identify the issues that are of concern to people of that age, so that all HSA members can work to advocate and address them with the employer and various levels of government.

The Young Workers Forum will be held on December 9th. I encourage young workers to register for an opportunity to meet other young workers at HSA from around the province.

I’m also pleased to introduce the new members of the Young Workers Advisory Committee: Chelsey Bellingham, Paige Purcha, Robyn Turner, Kevin Taki and Carley Townsend. They are taking over from Alexandra Walenciak, Karen Sandhu, and Jas Giddha who served on the advisory group since its creation in 2019. Thanks to our outgoing Young Workers Advisory Committee members, and welcome to the new members joining the committee!

In closing

The year has really flown by. As I look back, 2022 has been a year of optimism as we emerge from the pandemic and work for new collective agreements to meaningfully address the working conditions of all HSA members in every profession and worksite.  I want to thank all of you for the work you do every day, ensuring the British Columbians remain healthy and cared for. 

Our health care system and community social services can’t function with you; so make sure you take the time to care for yourselves and your loved ones.  Have a happy and safe holiday season, and I look forward to talking to you again in the New Year.