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SASKATOON: Unionized workers at the Saskatoon Community Clinic are cautiously optimistic that clinic members will vote to reverse the planned closure of the vision care department at tomorrow evening’s semi-annual meeting.

“We’re hopeful that the membership will pass a motion calling on the clinic to keep vision care services,” said Carla Smith, president of CUPE Local 974. “The closure of this department would be particularly harmful to Aboriginal people and the elderly, who rely on the clinic for one-stop health care.”

In December, clinic management announced its intentions to eliminate the department, effective March 17, to avoid a projected 2003/04 deficit of $339,000. The closure of the department will result in the layoff of one out-of-scope optometrist and five unionized workers.

The clinic board has not ruled out more cutbacks.

Smith said the decision to shut down the vision care department has not gone over well with many long-time clinic members. “A lot of members have complained about the closure and many are refusing to pay their voluntary annual assessments as a form of protest.”

CUPE has also called on the provincial government, which provides the majority of funding to the clinic, to increase base funding to the Saskatoon Community Clinic and other community clinics across the province.

The community clinic board and union representatives met with Health Minister John Nilson and several Saskatoon MLAs last Thursday to request increased funding. The government made no commitments.

However, Smith maintains that the board should be able to operate the vision care department in a viable manner. The union has hired a consultant to prepare a feasibility study, which will be presented to tomorrow’s meeting.

CUPE represents 90 workers at the clinic, including nurses, lab and x-ray technologists, nutritionists, pharmacists, therapists, optometric and clerical staff.

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For more information contact Carla Smith at 222-3692.