Hospital workers represented by CUPE 79 call on employer to address staffing shortages and working conditions

As the province-wide hospital sector staffing crisis worsens and impacts patient care, workers at the Hennick Bridgepoint Hospital in Toronto are imploring their employer to listen to their concerns and implement real solutions.

“The staffing shortage entails poor working conditions as it means going without breaks and constantly feeling pressure to provide optimum patient care in difficult circumstances,” says Casey Barnett, president of CUPE 79, which represents more than 1,000 workers at the site, including RNs, RPNs, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dieticians, speech language pathologists, clerical and support service workers.

“The expectation for staff to sacrifice their own well-being is not acceptable. We simply want better working conditions, which would also be good for patients as ultimately, healthcare workers want to form better relationships with the patients they serve,” she says. “Having the time to understand people’s medical history and developing an appropriate care plan is invaluable.”

On Tuesday morning, the union held a rally outside the hospital. CUPE 79 workers provide a range of services at the complex care institution, including rehabilitation, palliative care, and dialysis treatments.

The union says it has put forward solutions to the employer to address the staffing crisis, which includes a fair wage increase and better working conditions in the ongoing round of bargaining.

CUPE 79 represents two bargaining units: the nurses and paramedical group, and the service employees. The former has not had a contract since March 2020 and the workers in the latter group have been working without one since September 2021.

The union is calling on the employer to quickly negotiate fair settlements to ensure workers get their first wage increase in years. According to CUPE 79, the hospital has delayed the entire bargaining process through a cavalier attitude, while offering proposals that are disrespectful to workers. The hospital has proposed cuts to benefits for part-timers among other concessions and refused to adopt sector-wide standardized protections against workplace violence.

“Hospital workers needed a wage increase yesterday,” said Lily Chang, secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress and a CUPE 79 member. “It’s one of the key reasons why we have a crisis in the sector, because people can’t afford to pay their bills while working in an environment that takes a physical, mental, and emotional toll. Hennick Bridgepoint management needs to step up and negotiate fair contracts.”

Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario, said that Ontario’s healthcare system was at a critical juncture due to years of disrespectful treatment of workers by employers and the provincial government. He pointed to a 300% rise in job vacancies in hospitals since 2015, with about one-sixth (37,000) of positions currently being unfilled.

He said that while some hospital employers have made sincere efforts to address workers’ concerns, Hennick Bridgepoint has been disappointing.

“Employers must do everything that they can to shore up our public hospitals, to get us through this crisis,” he said. “CUPE will continue to hold irresponsible employers accountable. We will leave no stone unturned to defend our public healthcare system, premised on the rights and dignity of workers and patients alike.”