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Happy Communities Day!

National President Paul Moist celebrated Communities Day October 5th with a visit to several locals in Southern Alberta.

Moist dropped in to see employees at Lethbridge Regional Hospital. In Medicine Hat, he participated in CUPE’s “Stuff the Bus” campaign for the local food bank.

CUPE has declared October 5th Communities Day to celebrate and recognize the work public sector employees do to build strong communities.

Federal government cuts will seem like “small potatoes”

Observers are warning that the first round of program cuts by the Tories is “small potatoes” compared to what’s coming next.

Last week, Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced in the same breath a record $13-billion surplus and $1 billion in federal program cuts.

To your average onlooker, the case for budget cuts when the government is in surplus might seem shaky. However, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives economist Ellen Russell argues that between the Tories’ promised tax cuts ($9.9 billion in the first budget), increases in defence spending ($4 billion) and other initiatives, the government is actually short $17 billion.

And so Flaherty and Treasury Board Chair John Baird sent their minions out through the halls of government. They came up with a list of departments and programs that even after years of fiscal abuse at the hands of the Liberals and the old Progressive Conservatives, provided services, support or advocacy for a broad spectrum of Canadians.

The cuts range from $55.4 million cut from youth employment programs to $4.6 million slashed from the Museums Assistance Program to the complete elimination of the Canadian Labour Business Centre and a tobacco addiction control program for Aboriginal Canadians. These and other cuts are severe, punitive and cynical. But the Tories have promised $22.5 billion in spending cuts during their mandate. Let us not wait to find out what’s next.

Visit http://cupe.ca/government/Current_federal_gove for a full list of the cuts CUPE thinks will most severely affect Canada’s communities.

CUPE intervenes in case against drug ads

CUPE has asked to be part of the defense of Canada’s laws against prescription drug advertising.

CanWest MediaWorks, which owns more than 65 newspapers, TV and radio stations and websites, is looking to ease Canadian broadcasting regulations on several issues including the ban on advertising prescription drugs.

For CanWest, the issue is that all the American TV shows it broadcasts are created to include as much as 50 per cent advertising. They need more filler in Canada, where broadcast regulations limit advertising to 12 minutes per hour.

CanWest wants to include more advertising and is looking, in part, to the US where they can import ads for pharmaceuticals along with the “content”. CanWest claims the restrictions on advertising are a freedom of expression issue and discriminate against Canadian broadcasters, since the public is already inundated by U.S. ads.

Canadian law prohibits ads that mention both the product name and specific therapeutic claims, but allows ads that inform consumers of new but unspecified treatment options for diseases or conditions.

For CUPE, the issue is rising drug costs and the role advertising plays in driving up demand for expensive and unnecessary drugs. Prescription drug costs jumped 62.3 per cent between 1994 and 2004.

Doctors are under tremendous pressure from pharmaceutical companies, who spend more than $20,000 per doctor per year pushing their products. Being able to market to consumers would bring the hype to a whole new level.

CanWest has filed a motion in the Ontario Superior Court to overturn the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations that ban direct-to-consumer advertising of drugs.

The company has also applied to the Canadian Radio and Television Commission to relax limits on the ratio of ads to content on television and to relax restrictions on other forms of ads like sponsorships, and product placement.

CUPE, along with the Canadian Health Coalition and other unions, has asked the court for intervener status. This would give us the opportunity to share our concerns with the court.

Major flaws in think tank’s health spending prescription

CUPE wasn’t surprised when a right-wing think tank known for its love of the market issued a report favouring more health care privatization.

What’s remarkable is how the Fraser Institute brazenly manipulates the numbers to show a so-called sustainability crisis,” said National President Paul Moist. “It’s simply absurd to take spending from the last five years and then extrapolate it over the next 60.”

The study doesn’t consider the factors driving up provincial health care spending, including drug costs, by far the fastest growing area of provincial health spending.

There’s no question we must address the financial future of public health care. But a real discussion will be wide-ranging and inclusive, not blinkered and selective,” said Moist.

The Institute argues current rates of provincial health spending are unsustainable and calls for user fees, private health insurance, extra billing and privately delivered services. Solutions that create more problems, as has been documented at home and around the world.

In any serious discussion about keeping a cap on costs, it’s undeniable that our single-payer system is the most efficient way of funding public health care,” said Moist.

Nova Scotia pension talks end in failure

Talks between five health care unions and all nine District Health Authorities (DHAs) and the IWK Health Centre on pensions and benefits issues have ended with no agreement.

The five unions – CUPE, the Canadian Auto Workers, the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union and the Service Employees International Union, bargain these issues together.

Failure on the pension issue has virtually guaranteed we will not be able to reach a settlement in conciliation,” said CUPE acute care co-ordinator Wayne Thomas, whose union resumes bargaining next week with eight of the DHAs. “CUPE hospital workers across the province could be in a strike position by the end of this month. Right now, I am not optimistic that a settlement can be reached.”

CUPE represents service, clerical and health care workers in 33 hospitals across Nova Scotia.

Ontario paramedics deserve meal breaks too

Ontario paramedics say they want what other Ontario workers get under basic provincial labour laws — designated meal breaks.

On Thursday, CUPE paramedics from across Ontario demonstrated at Ottawa City Hall to drive home their point that they deserve fair working conditions, including meal breaks.

Many municipalities, including Ottawa, have been ignoring the basic protections offered to virtually all employees in Ontario under the Employment Standards Act (ESA) by requiring paramedics to often work long hours without adequate breaks — a practice prohibited by provincial law.

The ESA represents the bare minimum working conditions for most employees in this province.

Paramedics work hard every day in a stressful and sometimes dangerous profession because they care about saving lives and protecting their communities,” says Michael Dick, chair of CUPE’s ambulance committee of Ontario and a paramedic for more than 25 years. “They need time to relax and eat so they can provide the best possible patient care in any emergency,”

Ottawa paramedics, members of CUPE 503, have been leading the fight for fair working conditions. Recently, a labour arbitrator ordered the City of Ottawa to meet the minimum working standards, allowing paramedics a half-hour meal break for every five hours on the job. But the City of Ottawa has refused to do so. Instead, the city is asking the Courts to allow it to continue to ignore these minimum workplace standards.

No strike at Fort McMurray schools

A strike at schools in the Alberta boomtown of Fort McMurray was averted after the school district offered employees a $350/month Fort McMurray living allowance.

CUPE 2545, representing non-teaching staff, had been planning to hold a strike vote, but called it off after the district increased its offer. The members had voted twice to reject contracts with lower monthly allowances.

Our members sent a clear message: we can’t live in Fort McMurray on what you are paying,” said CUPE Alberta president D’Arcy Lanovaz.

CUPE 2545 president Lorna Tollman said living allowances have become common in Fort McMurray.

The city, the university, the province and the hospitals are all having to pay extra because of the high cost of living and the labour shortage,” she said. “When Tim Hortons is paying $15 an hour, the school district needs only to look at its pay scales to find out why there are such huge shortages.”

The settlement was ratified by 95 per cent of voting members. The four-year contract ends in 2009. In addition to the $350 allowance, employees will receive 13.5 per cent wage increases over the life of the deal.

Strike looms at Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis

Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis workers could be on strike Oct. 27, after management continued to demand major concessions.

Management has already started telling clients that the shelter will be suspending services later this month,” said Jill Smyth, CUPE national representative. “Clearly this employer is keen on either locking us out or pushing us to go on strike.”

The members of CUPE 4393 voted 96 per cent in favour of a strike if a settlement cannot be reached. Management wants to reduce sick leave, cut bereavement leave and stop paying workers when they attend labour-management meetings, and other concessions.

We’re just struggling to hang on to what we have, but the employer seems determined to roll back our contract, even if they have to shut down the shelter to do it,” said Smyth.

CUPE 4393 represents workers who offer support and counselling services to abused women and their children in Guelph and across the county, including a full shelter program for abused women and children, counselling for the sexual assault centre, a transition and housing support program, and a program for rural women.

Members are asking women’s groups, community supporters and residents to contact the board of directors and management to voice their concern. The workers’ last contract expired on March 31, 2006. Mediation talks are scheduled for Oct. 26.

Public services at stake in Ontario municipal elections

CUPE 855, representing City of Kawartha Lakes municipal workers, is mounting a public awareness campaign to increase participation in the upcoming Ontario municipal elections and encourage members and residents to support candidates who support public services.

Quality, reliable public services provided by dedicated public workers are in danger of being contracted out to profit-seeking companies,” said Lyn Edwards, president of CUPE 855. “Taxpayers need to ensure they elect a council that will invest in public services.”

On Aug. 29, 2006, Kawartha Lakes council awarded a contract to a consulting firm to compile a report on the “Service Delivery of the City’s Water and Wastewater Treatment Operations”. There appears to be a clear goal of investigating an alternative service delivery, or privatized model. The City’s water and wastewater treatment operations are maintained and serviced by city workers and by the Ontario Clean Water Agency.

Some municipal services, including snowplowing of municipal owned facilities, maintenance of social housing buildings, collections in the provincial offences department and parking enforcement, have already been contracted out.

CUPE 855, along with the Lindsay & District Labour Council, is hosting an all-mayoral candidates meeting on Oct. 12.

Royal Roads University housekeepers win pay equity

Housekeepers at Royal Roads University in British Columbia have won a major victory in the battle for fair pay. Seven women housekeepers, members of CUPE 3886, have been awarded pay increases to bring them in line with the equivalent custodial rate.

In the case of the housekeeping supervisor, this translates to an increase of $5.04/hr retroactive to April 2005. For other housekeepers, the decision means an equity increase of $2.14/hour retroactive to the start of the collective agreement effective June 1, 2006.

CUPE 3886, which has 52 members at the university, brought the issue forward at labour management as a classic wage discrimination case between housekeeping aides and cleaners.

Local president Greg Higgs said it was clear that the issue would be a slam-dunk discrimination case should it go to arbitration.

We made a solid argument and the employer took a look and agreed to voluntarily address the inequities,” said Higgs, who calls the agreement an example of what can happen when the employer works with the union for fairness.

Pay equity has been a priority for CUPE 3886 and I am very pleased that this decision goes a long way towards righting a historical wrong,” he says.

McMaster University management triggers lockout/strike countdown

Management at McMaster University has requested a ‘no-board’ report from an Ontario Ministry of Labour conciliation officer, starting a countdown to a lockout or strike by teaching and research assistants (TAs and RAs).

The administration is refusing to discuss critical issues like rising tuition costs and excessive workloads, issues that not only affect our members, but also the students that we teach and help every day,” said CUPE 3906 president Sarah Declerck.

The university will be able to legally lock out the workers 17 days from the date the ‘no board’ report is issued. The workers will also be in a legal strike position at that time.

CUPE 3906 represents over 2,200 undergraduate and graduate TAs and RAs. Their last contract expired on Aug. 31, 2006. The union will meet management negotiators in mediation talks over the next two weeks.

Prescott-Russell management corners paramedics and social service staff

CUPE 3025, representing 160 paramedics, social services, housing and clerical staff in the united counties of Prescott and Russell, in eastern Ontario, is warning that management is setting the stage for a lockout that would disrupt essential services.

Essentially management is trying to corner us,” said Bob Manny, CUPE national representative. “They’re offering paramedics only one per cent. That doesn’t even keep up with inflation.”

The workers voted 85 per cent in favour of taking strike action if a reasonable settlement can’t be reached. The two sides had agreed to meet again in conciliation talks Oct. 11-12, but management cancelled. The workers will be in a legal lockout or strike position Nov. 9.

Residents should ask themselves why the counties are trying to force a disruption right before a municipal election,” said Manny. “The province recently increased its share of emergency services funding to 50 per cent, from a low of 34 per cent, so a reasonable wage increase will not overburden local taxpayers.”

CUPE is urging residents to contact their elected council members, to tell them to offer a fair contract to paramedics and other county workers and prevent a service disruption.

Waterloo Catholic District School Board workers deliver strong strike mandate

Waterloo Catholic District School Board workers voted 91 per cent in favour of a strike if a deal cannot be reached between CUPE 2512 and school board management.

Our strong strike mandate shows that our members are determined to fight for a fair contract,” said Linda Thurston-Neeley, CUPE national representative. “Downloading additional responsibilities to overworked workers is yet another sign that the board is out of touch with what is going on in the schools.”

The board wants to download the supervision of students to education assistants (EAs) and other support staff without increasing their hours. CUPE 2512 also represents secretaries, librarians, child and youth care workers and technicians. Hours of work, wages and management concession demands are the other outstanding issues. The workers’ last contract expired on Aug. 31, 2005.

It’s unfair for trustees to vote to double their own income while they try to download additional duties to front-line workers,” said Thurston-Neeley.