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SASKATOON: The union representing 90 workers at the Saskatoon Community Clinic vowed today to fight the closure of the clinic’s vision care department.

Yesterday afternoon, the clinic informed the union of its decision to eliminate the vision care department, effective March 17, to avoid a projected 2003/04 deficit of $339,000. The closure will result in the layoff of one out-of-scope optometrist, one part-time and three full-time unionized workers.

The union also learned today that another position in the accounting department could be eliminated as a result of yesterday’s announcement.

We are extremely disappointed that the clinic board completely ignored our recommendations to save vision care, especially our offer to defer wage increases to prevent these cutbacks, said Carla Smith, president of CUPE Local 974. We were hoping we could work together to find creative alternatives to address the budget shortfall.

In a presentation to the Saskatoon Community Clinic board on Monday, the union offered to recommend to its membership that they defer their 3 percent wage increase for the first three months of 2003 to avoid layoffs during the term of the collective agreement. The union said it would postpone the wage hike, negotiated in May, if out-of-scope staff followed suit.

Vision care is a key component of the one-stop health care that the clinic offers, said Smith. We don’t want to see clinic members lose this important and valued service.

Smith said the union is planning to work with clinic members to try to overturn the elimination of vision care at the clinic’s semi-annual meeting in January. A union membership meeting will be held tonight.

CUPE is also calling 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 Romanow report says primary health care would save money and improve health. And the province says the expansion of primary health care is an integral part of its action plan for health care. Why, then, are we seeing these cutbacks at the Saskatoon Community Clinic? The provincial government needs to put its money where its mouth is if it’s really serious about primary health care reform.

CUPE 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.