Eighteen months after negotiations began, and five years since their last contract, thousands of workers in Manitoba hospitals and personal care homes are still waiting for a deal.
To make that point, a group of health-care support workers gathered outside St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg Friday, brandishing picket signs and calling on the provincial government to help facilitate a new contract for them, complete with retroactive pay.
Workers have not had a salary increase in the last five years, and CUPE Local 204 president Debbie Boissonneault says they deserve it, especially after the long and extra hours they put in during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They’ve worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic and they feel like they are not getting any recognition from the government, or the employer,” she said.
One of the biggest issues the union has raised is recruitment and retention of employees. Boissonneault says many health-care support workers are leaving to pursue work outside of the industry because they don’t feel valued.
She also said home-care patients are having appointments cancelled because there aren’t enough people to come out and take care of them.
Boissonneault says the union has also been receiving phone calls and messages from workers asking what’s going to happen once a new collective agreement is made.
It’s been a long time, but she is optimistic a new deal will get done, along the lines of what the Manitoba Nurses’ Union received late last year.
“We want parity with what the nurses have gotten,” Boissoneault said. “It’s been very hard to see the nurses get a collective agreement, and they were five years, and we’re still at the table. So we just want a fair deal and we just want to see that they get the same value as the nurses have gotten.”
Boissoneault said the union is negotiating on behalf of approximately 18,000 workers she describes as “the pillars of health care.” This includes clerical, information, dietary, housekeeping, trades and maintenance positions, as well as health-care aides and workers in physiotherapy and rehab assistance.
A Shared Health spokesperson said the organization is grateful for the “important contributions” support staff have made the past two-plus years.
“While labour negotiations seldom move as quickly as either side would like, we have every expectation that, like nurses, all support staff will secure fair compensation with significant retroactive effect through ongoing negotiations facilitated by mediator Arne Peltz,” the spokesperson said.
Shared Health also said recruitment and retention is a priority, but admitted it’s a long-term challenge.
CBC News asked Shared Health about specific data as it relates to health-care support workers in CUPE Local 204, but the spokesperson was unable to provide provincial data on the number of health-care support workers, the number of vacant positions, workers’ absentee rate and the retention rate.
Union Station MLA and NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara joined the crowd of picketers.
Asagwara said Manitoba’s Tory government has mistreated health-care support workers since 2016.
“I think the government needs to make explicitly clear by way of action that they respect these workers, that they will ensure they get COVID top-up pay, and that they are going to get a fair deal,” they said. “And that never again will they freeze their wages while they deny them the ability to get a fair contract and have them working to the point of burnout.”