In 2015, CUPE members mobilized to protect public health care, home care and long-term care, and to make health care an election priority.
On March 31, CUPE and members of our BC health services division, the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU), joined members of the Canadian Health Coalition in a national day of action marking the first anniversary of the expiry of the federal-provincial Health Accord. Together, we highlighted the need for a well-funded health care system and a new accord at 50 events across Canada and on social media, where #stand4Medicare trended nationwide.
In May, CUPE members and staff met MPs in their ridings in a lobby week to press our issues on health care. Members also canvassed the community to build support for our demands.
Our multi-year health accord campaign, organized with the Council of Canadians and local community activists, raised awareness about how the federal Conservative government has damaged health care. The campaign had an impact during the federal election, including on Northern Vancouver Island, where the NDP defeated an incumbent Conservative MP and also won a newly-created riding. Across the country, Conservative MPs were defeated in seven of 10 targeted ridings.
CUPE members also defended public health care in their communities. In New Brunswick, hospital workers sounded the alarm about cuts and privatization. Their campaign included a hearse symbolizing the death of public health care that visited summer markets and festivals. CUPE 1252 members are fighting Liberal plans to privatize management of hospital support services including food, cleaning and porters. They are also resisting cutbacks that threaten rural hospitals.
In Saskatchewan, CUPE health care workers and the Council of Canadians organized a five-city anti-privatization tour. The latest threat is for-profit MRIs. CUPE highlighted the dangers of private MRIs with research and a legal opinion showing private MRIs violate the Canada Health Act. CUPE Saskatchewan has asked the federal health minister to review the Wall government’s MRI legislation.
HEU members mobilized to save in-house hospital laundry services and protect 175 family-supporting jobs in the BC interior. They gained the support of local councils in communities hit by the potential loss of jobs and services, and collected nearly 13,000 signatures on a petition tabled in the provincial legislature. At the end of 2015, HEU released a study showing the Interior Health Authority had no economic justification to privatize. The newly-appointed health authority CEO has delayed a decision on contracting out, pending further review.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, CUPE worked with labour movement allies to fight the privatization of four new nursing homes. At a summer forum held during the annual premiers’ gathering, experts highlighted the problems with P3s for long-term care. The newly-elected Liberals have said they will not privatize long-term care or any other part of the health care system.
Together, we highlighted the need for a well-funded health care system.
New Brunswick nursing home workers in the Miramichi are also campaigning to keep a new nursing home public. The members of CUPE 1256 and CUPE 1277 organized rallies and had a strong presence at community events. In a region devastated by a mill closure, CUPE members made the case that the new facility should stay public and provide good jobs, gathering 10,000 names on a petition to their local MLA.
Health care workers in Ontario, members of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU), organized a provincial tour warning of the dangers of private surgical clinics. Working with the Ontario Health Coalition, OCHU held a five-city referendum that collected over 100,000 votes against the government’s plans to move work from public hospitals to private clinics. OCHU also exposed the impact of hospital and long-term care cuts on the home care sector.
In Quebec, the 20,000 members of CUPE’s Conseil provincial des affaires sociales (CPAS) launched the next phase of a campaign highlighting the sector’s unsung heroes. These workers are care facilitators for people who rely on the public health and social services network. The CPAS campaign warns that privatization and cuts to programs and budgets threaten Quebec’s public health system.
In Nova Scotia, CUPE home care workers rallied to fight privatization, challenging a competitive bidding model that has failed in Ontario. When the health minister outrageously suggested that home care workers were overpaid and only washed dishes, it sparked a series of widely-publicized “dishtowel demos.” Hundreds of workers from CUPE and other unions rallied with advocates outside the offices of nine members of the legislature, wielding placards and dishtowels in protest.