Health Care Reform
1994 saw the continuation of the “billion dollar” cut to health care. The cuts are to happen over a four-year period (1993-97) and 1994 was yet another year of havoc in the health care system.
The Klein government’s deficit elimination program was touted as the reason for the massive cuts, but when Alberta received windfall oil and gas profits in 1994, the cuts were not reduced, new user fees were not withdrawn, nurses were not re-hired nor were lost services restored. It became apparent that the deficit and debt issue was a smokescreen for an ideologically-motivated attack on social programs. It had little to do with finances and everything to do with privatizing government services and eliminating public services. It became very apparent that the assault on health care was motivated by a wish to replace a publicly-funded and publicly-administered system with a privatized American-style health care system. In 1994, there were 37 private health care facilities in Alberta including abortion, eye clinic and magnetic resonance imaging clinics.
1994 also saw the creation of seventeen (17) new Regional Health Authorities. These new bodies have been charged with managing all health care services within their geographic territory. Although these Authorities were named in 1994 it would seem that they will not totally replace the existing Boards of Trustees until April 1, 1995.
The existence of these new Regional Health Authorities was to have major impacts on health care workers and their unions. Questions relating to who the employer is; how many bargaining tables; how many Locals per region and other important baselines were all affected by regionalization.
Effects of Health Care Reform
In 1993, UNA was instrumental in forcing the government to set up a series of tripartite talks amongst health care unions, health care employers and the government. While these talks did not lead to the hoped-for agreement regarding the pace, structure and effects of health care layoffs and closures, the tripartite process did push the government to take $15 million dollars from Alberta Career Development funds and to put this money into a Workforce Adjustment Fund to provide laid off health care workers with up-grading and re-training as well as other career-supportive endeavours. In order to decide how these monies would be distributed, a Joint Regional Committee (JRC) was set up in each of the seventeen (17) regions with representatives from employers and trade unions on each committee. UNA members were hard at work in 1994 attending JRC meetings, setting up terms of reference, meeting with Employment and Immigration officers and Career Development representatives and planning on how best to distribute the funds allocated to each region.
Layoffs and closures continued to be the order-of-the-day in 1994. Once again large numbers of UNA members found themselves on the recall lists, in the UIC lines and many off to foreign countries which still value the services of licensed nurses. It was difficult for UNA to measure the exact number of nursing jobs lost since nurses working even one recall or casual shift continued to show up on UNA’s dues lists. These may have been full-time workers who now picked up only one or two shifts a month. The loss was actual jobs; the greater loss was in accumulated nursing hours. UNA figures the overall loss in nursing hours was close to 3000 full-time equivalent positions.
1994 also found UNA again fighting to protect the profession of nursing. A government-appointed committee, euphemistically called the Workforce Rebalancing Committee, was mandated to make recommendations regarding the licensing and registration of health care workers in Alberta. The Committee put forth a Discussion Paper in which they proposed the de-licensing of most health care workers, including nurses, and the removal of exclusive scopes of practice. Public hearings on these recommendations were held and UNA members appeared at these hearings to ask difficult questions of the Committee and to let them know that a twelve-week course in generic health care work was not sufficient skill level to take care of the sick and injured. UNA continued to work to protect the licensing of nurses and to ensure that the people of Alberta would be cared for by well-educated and highly-skilled licensed professionals.
1994 was the year in which the government of Alberta introduced three Bills affecting health care. Bill 46 allowed the government to collect from an individual all health care costs incurred by other Albertans as a result of a wrongdoing. In other words, if you cause an accident and people require health care services, the government can recover the cost of those services from you. This Bill was passed and became law in 1994. Bill 41, the Government Reorganization Act, was also passed into law and provided the mechanisms for government privatization. Bill 57, which allowed Ministers to privatize all government responsibilities was withdrawn due to public protest. It, too, is slated to reappear in 1995.
In response to the Klein government agenda, UNA joined with the other health care unions, the Alberta Teachers’ Association, the Alberta Federation of Labour, CUSO and seniors’ representatives to set up the Common Front. These sponsor groups, which were later joined by the Alberta Environment Network, worked together to fund and organize the formation of Community Action Teams in fifteen and more political constituencies. They produced organizing kits, pamphlets, buttons, posters and a new Alberta game—Politician Pursuit. The Community Action Groups organized local actions to help educate people about the cuts and to present an opposition voice. The sponsors who were invited to the Premier’s forum presented Klein with an alternate Common Front budget. The Common Front worked with groups preparing alternative economic solutions and supported the publication of a book exposing the ideology and goals behind the Klein agenda. UNA offered office space and support to the Common Front throughout 1994, contributed funds and provided staff time. The work continues.
Bargaining-wise, 1994 was a long and difficult year for UNA members and particularly for our Negotiating Committees. The employers came to the bargaining tables demanding major rollbacks and concessions, especially in the areas of layoff and recall, hours of work and schedules, and short term disability. Included in their rollbacks were wage cuts much larger than 5%. In the course of bargaining, UNA laid unfair labour practice charges at the Labour Relations Board against the hospital employers, charging them with unfairly threatening nurses with layoffs if they did not accept the rollbacks. By 1995 UNA had still not received a decision from the hearings on these matters.
All winter and spring, UNA negotiated at four hospital tables, four health unit tables and three long term care tables. With great effort and skillful manoeuvering UNA was able to force the employers to remove their concessions from the tables and to agree to some improved wording. Despite an unwillingness to accept the Premier’s 5% wage cut, UNA members directed their Negotiating Committees to accept the 5% rollback on condition that there was no retroactivity and with the hope that we could negotiate severance provisions. In the hospital contracts UNA was able to achieve a Letter of Understanding that committed the employers to meet and negotiate a severance package in good faith. These negotiations were the first time UNA was faced with bargaining with the new Regional Health Authorities and severance negotiations got under way in late 1994, to be continued in 1995.
Health Care Union Caucus
One of the important outcomes of the tripartite talks was the continuation of the health care union caucus. This grouping of nine health care unions was the first time that these unions had regularly come together to discuss issues, fund activities, join in common political action, meet government and present joint briefs. The health care union caucus continued throughout 1994 and into 1995.
Health Care Alliance
UNA, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) and the Canadian Health Care Guild (CHCG) formed an alliance for purposes of collective bargaining. The plan was to work together to coordinate bargaining and to sit as observers at each other’s bargaining tables in order to ensure union solidarity especially as unions embark on the process of bargaining with the new Regional Health Authorities.
UNA was proud to welcome the nurses at the Salem Nursing Home in Leduc into UNA Local #194. Negotiations for a first Collective Agreement began in 1994 and were scheduled to be completed in early 1995.
Grievances, Mediations, Arbitrations and AARN Hearings
1994 was another year in which UNA’s Local Executives and staff worked hard at monitoring the application and interpretation of our Collective Agreements. UNA filed 908 grievances, scheduled 58 arbitration hearings and represented nurses in 37 arbitrations. In addition UNA participated in 20.5 days of grievance mediation meetings and represented nurses in 13 days of Alberta Association of Registered Nurses (AARN) hearings.
Royal Alexandra Hospital and Alberta Hospital Edmonton
1994 was the year in which UNA was faced with it’s first-ever raids. In July, the Local Executive of the Royal Alexandra Hospital decided to leave UNA and form the Royal Alexandra Nurses’ Union (RANU). In a whirlwind weekend they convinced 635 nurses to sign a petition asking the Labour Relations Board to certify RANU as the union representing all nurses at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. The former Local President of UNA Local #33 told nurses that she could negotiate a superior Collective Agreement directly with the employer, an Agreement which in fact would have cost each full-time nurse in excess of $1,000 in a retroactive rollback payment to the employer.
The UNA Executive Board put Local #33 into trusteeship and three Board members were named as Trustees to deal with the business of the Local.
UNA challenged the RANU application at the LRB claiming that many of the nurses who signed the petition were told it was to speed up bargaining, not to leave UNA. After a series of hearings, the Labour Relations Board found that RANU was not a bona fide trade union and determined that their application failed. Normally the applicant group is barred from re-applying for ninety days and, therefore, they cannot use the same list of names. RANU applied for relief from the ninety-day rule so that they could re-apply using the same names. The LRB denied their application and the raid was effectively over. UNA went on to negotiate a Collective Agreement with no retroactive wage rollbacks—clearly a better contract than the one promised by RANU representatives.
In August, the Health Care Employees Union tried to raid the UNA Local at Alberta Hospital Edmonton but the raid was short-lived and nurses at Local #183 continued to be represented by UNA.
Annual General Meeting
The 1994 UNA Annual General Meeting was held on October 18 and 19, and was attended by 400 people. The new two-day format put pressure on the delegates to deal with the business in a shorter space of time—something they did with amazing ability. Hard financial choices faced the delegates and they reduced spending in some areas. For example, the hospital demand-setting meeting was reduced to two days and attached to the 1995 Annual General Meeting to save costs, and Executive Board meetings were reduced from four days to three. The Education program was not funded—but the delegates endorsed the continuation of the education plan of attaching an educational activity to every UNA Executive Board meeting, every District meeting and every Annual General Meeting.
Policy resolutions and constitutional amendments were discussed and voted on. Heather Smith was acclaimed UNA President and Dale Fior was acclaimed UNA Secretary-Treasurer. The delegates directed that UNA explore with the Staff Nurses Associations of Alberta the willingness and feasibility of alternate structures for the representation of unionized nurses in Alberta and the delegates also endorsed UNA’s participation in the Health Care Alliance. Delegates also passed a motion allowing retired or laid off UNA members to maintain associate membership. Associate membership was $10 per year and associate members cannot hold elected positions in the Union.
UNA’s education program of attaching an educational activity to UNA meetings proved to be a big success. Workshops were held on Patient-Focused Care, the New Zealand experience, free trade agreements and political action. Workshops for new Local Executives were held throughout the province as were Local workshops on Professional Responsibility, Occupational Health and Safety, Grievance and Local Administration.
A special provincial workshop was held for UNA members on the Joint Regional Committees of the Workforce Adjustment Committee.
UNA’s Education Officer was invited to make presentations to health care unions on Patient-Focused Care in New Jersey and Ontario, in addition to workshops on the same issue for the Health Sciences Association of Alberta and the Non-Academic Staff Association at the University of Alberta.
Community health care forums were organized by a number of Locals and were attended by interested people in the community.
UNA has published the regular Newsbulletin and in 1994 added a UNA Stat publication for posting on UNA bulletin boards. UNA also published a Frontline bulletin on bargaining which was sent to each Local.
UNA produced 1995 day books for UNA members—at no cost to UNA as they were funded by local merchant advertising.
And as soon as Collective Agreements were signed, our communication department began the arduous task of proofing and printing copies of contracts for UNA members.
UNA continued with its commitment to computerize the Union and enhance communication. In 1991 the two UNA offices, UNA Executive Board members and the UNA staff received computers; in 1992, 19 Locals came on line; in 1993, 27 Locals joined the network; and in 1994, 18 more Locals became part of UNA-NET.