CUPE Nova Scotia web banner. Images of 5 CUPE members at work, and the CUPE NS logo.After a year-long delay and an additional nine months of bargaining, security workers represented by CUPE 5479 who are responsible for the safety of most hospitals in Nova Scotia, have filed for conciliation.

“For nearly two years, security workers employed by Paladin have been fighting to create the first collective agreement after voting almost 90% in favour of joining CUPE,” said CUPE representative Bev Strachan. “At every turn, Paladin delayed this process, filing labour board complaints and appealing the decisions, and now they are trying to throw money at these workers rather than address their real, and potentially dangerous, issues.”

For the workers of CUPE 5479, their largest issue with Paladin Security, other than the poor wages, is health and safety. Workers are given one day of in-person training in addition to online modules before they are placed in hospitals to act as security. These training sessions are not in line with the training, specifically Non-Violent Crisis Intervention training, given to other staff at the hospital such as nurses, meaning that responding to any situation can cause more confusion than necessary. “We all knew when we applied that this job would be difficult and sometimes dangerous,” said CUPE 5479 Vice-President Nicholas Degenstein, “but that doesn’t mean we expected to be given the bare minimum of training and no protective gear. When people think of security guards, they picture someone with a protective vest, maybe a tactical belt with protective tools.

We don’t have that. We don’t get protective vests or gloves, and radios often don’t work. How are we supposed to protect the hospital staff and patients if we aren’t given the proper equipment to protect ourselves?” Members of CUPE 5479, though employed by Paladin, are under contract with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, NSH, to work in most Nova Scotia hospitals. Paladin claims that the NSH is ultimately responsible for the wages and protections of Paladin employees; however, security workers at the IWK, who are employed by the IWK but also under the NSH umbrella, already have better wages and protections.

Unlike the Paladin employed security workers, the workers of the IWK are given training alongside their fellow hospital staff and are provided protective gear such as slash vests following a previous violent incident. “We shouldn’t be waiting for a tragedy to occur before we prioritize the safety of workers and patients,” said CUPE Nova Scotia President Nan McFadgen. “These workers deserve proper equipment and training to do their jobs properly. Paladin seems to think that offering a few dollars increase over the minimum wage they already pay these workers will be enough to stop them from raising their completely valid safety concerns. They found out today that that’s not true.” “You can’t buy our safety,” said Degenstein.

“We created a comprehensive health and safety plan and presented it to Paladin’s team. Instead of taking it seriously, they came back with a promise to adhere to the already existing Health and Safety Act, which is the law, and a wage increase. They offered nothing else. They completely ignored all our concerns as if a few more dollars an hour is going to help us when we lack the right gear to keep us safe on the job.” “Paladin and the NSH are both equally responsible for the security workers of our hospitals,” said McFadgen, “and it’s time they stepped up. Would Paladin, or the Nova Scotia Health Authority for that matter, be able to work every day without the necessary tools to do their job? I think not.” In addition to the health and safety issues, CUPE 5479 members are also fighting for comprehensive medical coverage and sick days. Currently, Paladin is offering their ‘corporate plan’ while ignoring the alternative suggested by CUPE.

Vital medical coverage, such as vision care, dental, and complete pharmacare coverage is not included in the corporate plan, raising concerns about the burden of unexpected expenses on top of already low wages. This issue is exacerbated by Paladin’s limit of only 3 sick days a year for full-time employees, which means these security workers are often required to ignore their own health issues so they can attend work without being penalized. “We have members who are forced to go to work sick,” said Degenstein. “They have no choice once their sick days run out. Most of us barely make minimum wage. We can’t afford to miss a day of work, so we go in. Even when we do use a sick day, we’re not compensated properly for it. We work 12-hour shifts, but sick days are only covered for 8 hours. No matter what, we’re taking a financial hit, and a lot of families can’t make that work. It’s even worse for part-timers who only get one sick day a year.”

“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Strachan. “Paladin has refused to move on most, if not all, of our proposals. The only thing they’re offering is more money, like that will make up for the lack of safety, medical benefits, sick days, vacation days, pension, and a whole laundry list of other issues. Money can’t solve everything, and it’s time that Paladin, and the NSH, realized that and come to these workers with the real intention to negotiate a fair deal.”