Raising a voice
Bonnie Prieur, president of CUPE local 3000 in Winchester, hired Fat Les’s to keep rally members fed and warm on April 18 during a province-wide hospital rally to raise awareness of the struggles of 75,000 hospital workers without a negotiated contract since September.      Courtesy photo

Kalynn Sawyer Helmer
Record Staff
WINCHESTER – On Wed., April 18, roughly 60 Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) members from Winchester District Memorial Hospital (WDMH) gathered outside of the hospital to hold a rally. The rally aimed to promote awareness of the current struggle for 75,000 hospital workers across Ontario who have been waiting since September for a new contract.

Those 75,000 members come from three unions: CUPE, SEIU Healthcare and Unifor. The collaboration was described by president of CUPE local 3000 in Winchester, Bonnie Prieur, as historic.

The three unions met in Toronto with the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) on Saturday and Sunday to make another push during negotiations. “Our side wants the contract negotiated before the provincial election in case there’s a change of government and all of the rules change. They are really pushing to try and negotiate this. Hospital workers don’t tend to make our issues too public but they feel they don’t have any choice at this point,” explained Prieur. The campaign has included a sticker day on April 11 and a province-wide rally at every hospital on Wed., April 18.

While waiting for the new contract, workers follow the previous rules, but this can be problematic for workers deserving of raises or benefits. According to Prieur, some of the changes OHA is suggesting include a reduction of the percentage paid to part-time people in lieu of benefits from 14 per cent to nine, a reduction of amounts paid for full-time workers’ benefits from 75 per cent to 50 per cent, as well as language that changes the nature of seniority rights in layoffs and job postings.

At WDMH alone, CUPE represents 150 workers of both clerical and technical service. “It covers everyone from RPNs, dietary workers, housekeepers, clerical and x-ray techs to physiotherapists,” said Prieur, who added that what the bargaining units are finding is a lack of respect at the table. “It’s difficult to go to the bargaining table when they show no respect for the contributions that these people make. If the dietary workers are not there, people aren’t fed. If the housekeepers aren’t there, the rooms aren’t clean.”

While the workers are not permitted to strike, as hospitals are an essential service, the rally provided a way to make their issues known. “We are the front line workers and we are the ones who are looking after people’s families in the hospital and we are just looking for support from the public and to make OHA aware that we are not lying down for this fight,” said Prieur.

During the weekend meetings, a settlement was reached and ratification votes are set to be concluded before May 31.