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CUPE members from Pembroke Regional Hospital rally against wage cuts, for better protections

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CUPE members from the Pembroke Regional Hospital attended a lunchtime rally Monday to show their frustration over concessions proposed at the central negotiations table after being called heroes by the premier throughout the pandemic and ask for better protections.

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Although the contracts for the approximately 550 members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) employed at the PRH expire in September, central bargaining for larger items such as wages has begun.

Provincial bargaining for nearly 70,000 registered practical nurses, personal support workers, clerical, cleaning, maintenance, dietary and other staff who are members of CUPE and Services Employees International Union Healthcare (SEIU Healthcare) began in June,

“We had started bargaining with the OHA (Ontario Hospital Association), we have exchanged proposals and to our surprise there was a mound of concessions when these hospital  workers have been working during a pandemic giving it their all, not being about to take vacation, with some people reassigned to long-term care homes or  taken from their job to do other jobs in the hospital, not knowing if they were going to bring COVID home to their loved ones,” said Sharon Richer, CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE) secretary-treasurer.

CUPE says the OHA, the umbrella group that bargains on behalf of Ontario hospitals in central negotiations, has proposed takeaways which would eviscerate the employment protection and mobility rights of the workforce

In addition to the concessions, the union is also struggling with Bill 124, which is provincial legislation which allows unions to bargain a one-per cent increase for each 12-month period.

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“This is Doug Ford’s present to health-care workers who have been working tremendously hard,” she added. “Some of our members have had it pretty rough with COVID. We recognize our collective agreement doesn’t deal with pandemic issues, but some people have PTSD, and we are unable to bargain that because we are caught into this one per cent total wage compensation. So this is a problem.”

Richer also noted some of the members are working without N95 masks, gloves, other proper protective equipment and she feels the collective agreements should be updated to reflect the importance of these items.

During the rally, the members were encouraged to write a letter to PRH president and CEO Pierre Noel to point out the fact they have been called heroes more than once by the premier and to ask that Bill 124 be repealed or at least make health-care workers exempt. The CEO is then asked to write to the OHA to ask that the concessions be taken off the table.

“This is not the time for concessions; they need praise,” Richer said.

This is one of 55 rallies planned across the province this summer, culminating with a large rally in Toronto, likely near the OHA office on Sept. 10, days before central bargaining is set to resume. Local bargaining for the impacted staff members at the Pembroke Regional Hospital is expected to begin in October with the initial proposal exchange.

TPeplinskie@postmedia.com

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