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Some CUPE locals have negotiated minimum staffing levels to combat the work overload problem. Some have bargained staffing ratios. Locals can also bargain provisions for a workload complaints procedure as a protection against excessive workload. This could include binding arbitration. Locals should also bargain right to refuse clauses where workload is concerned.

Here are a few examples of how locals are responding to the workload crisis.

At CUPE 1253, New Brunswicks Council of School District Unions, the agreement says school custodians must be assigned work by only one supervisor. Custodial workloads are clearly specified as are those for stationary engineers and school bus drivers. A provincial work study committee has also been set up.

CUPE 1949, Saskatchewans legal aid workers, has a workload clause that states Where an employees workload is causing a concern, the employee, the legal director, and, if requested by the employee, the union, will meet to discuss the concern, and the options for resolution, selecting the most appropriate. The legal director will not unreasonably reject an employees request or concerns related to workload.

CUPE 1418, representing social workers and other service workers in New Brunswick, feels so strongly about workload that it has just entered negotiations with a proposal for 172 additional child protection officers. They plan to back it up with a province-wide Walk for Children to get public support for the added jobs.

As well as bargaining, locals have other ways of fighting against work overload.

Lobbying governments

Several locals are conducting workload surveys, like Overworked & Under Fire in Ontario, to determine the extent of the problem. Such surveys make excellent lobbying tools while building support for action at the bargaining table to control workload. Lobbying is also needed to ensure that workers compensation boards recognize workload-related injuries.

Making it a public issue

One way to make workload a public issue is to launch a local campaign to show how much extra work is being done in CUPE workplaces. Have each member record the number of coffee breaks, lunch hours and after-shift hours they have worked each day for a week. Then take a symbolic day off and publicize the event as Workplace Freedom Day. Make it a Saturday, if necessary, although the members will have no doubt worked an extra day in unpaid overtime by the end of the week.

Using the courts

There is a General Duty clause in all health and safety laws. If these included workload as a hazard, and were enforced, the problem would be greatly reduced.

Fighting for Brother Willy

Back to work tomorrow. I am scared of the place. Just too much work. Feel I cannot fail them. No support from management.

Those were the words of Brother Willy of CUPE 40 at the Calgary Board of Education. Brother Willy took his own life in 1998 while under heavy stress due to his workload.

CUPE is now appealing a workers compensation claim on behalf of Brother Willys family. The Alberta WCB denied the original claim. If the appeal succeeds it may be the first time that a WCB has compensated a worker for a workload-related death. This could set a precedent and open the floodgates for such claims across Canada.

Excerpts from Brother Willys diary can be found at cupe.ca.

Take my breaks today

Health care workers in Ontario are tackling the issue of workload overload with a Take My Breaks Today campaign. In September members got brown paper lunch bags with a CUPE clock on them. The accompanying leaflet spelled out the dangers of overwork.

In the daily race with the clock to get it all done, thousands of CUPE members who work in hospitals, homes for the aged and nursing homes are not taking their daily breaks that would help them recharge and refuel, the leaflet says. They are hurting their health[and] the inability to provide quality care is emotionally draining and adds to the workload stress.

Restructuring, underfunding, privatization and total quality management practices are to blame for unprecedented workload demands, says CUPE Ontario

secretary-treasurer Brian OKeefe. The campaign objective is to turn this situation around and ensure that our members are not paying the price of health care restructuring.

As a next step, CUPE Ontario is planning a conference for February 9-11, 2001. Workshops will examine the impact of workload and strategies for tackling it, taking into account equity issues and developing action plans for the year to come.