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SASKATOON: The union representing 90 workers at the Saskatoon Community Clinic is offering to delay negotiated wage increases in order to prevent layoffs and the closure of the clinic’s optometry department.

In a presentation to a meeting of the Saskatoon Community Clinic board yesterday, Carla Smith, president of CUPE Local 974, said the union would be willing to recommend to its membership that they defer their 3 percent wage increase for January, February and March of 2003. Smith said the union would delay the wage hike, negotiated in May, if out-of-scope staff did the same and there was a guarantee that no unionized members would be laid off during the term of the collective agreement.

During the last round of negotiations, we had no indication whatsoever that the clinic was facing a budget shortfall or that layoffs could be in the offing, said Smith. Nevertheless, we want to do our part to prevent cutbacks. Vision care is an integral part of the community clinic and its holistic approach to health care. We don’t want to see our members and clients lose this important service.

In November, the clinic’s board of directors proposed a reduction of 13 in-scope staff, in the form of job loss or reduced hours of work, to avoid a projected 2003/04 deficit of $339,000. Closing the optometry department is one option that management is considering.

The provincial government, which provides the majority of funding to the community clinic, has since come up with an additional $50,000 to bring the wages of nurses and other professionals at the clinic up to 95 percent of their counterparts in the Saskatoon Health Authority.

While the union is calling on the provincial government to increase base funding to the Saskatoon Community Clinic, it is also urging the clinic board to reconsider its options. At yesterday’s meeting, CUPE proposed the establishment of a joint union-management committee to examine financial statements, lobby the provincial government and consider creative budget alternatives to layoffs and service cutbacks.

We are asking the clinic board to include us in the decision-making process, said Smith. We need more time to consider other options that will save vision care and other services, and more time to jointly lobby the provincial government to provide adequate funding to the community clinic.

Clinic management will inform the union of the board’s budget decisions at 3:00 p.m. today.

The union represents a wide range of health care 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.