COVID – Return to Work Planning and Employee Safety

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As many of you know, the Employer has stated many times that it wants to take a “cautious” and gradual approach to having employees return to the office. Until recently, the plan was to move to Phase Three in October, with all employees returning to the office 50% of the time. Since most employees had been fulfilling their duties from home for several months, there was no customer service rationale for this plan. It was simply part of the Employer’s goal of getting all employees back to the office as soon as possible.

In late September, a record number of COVID cases prompted the provincial government to elevate the pandemic response to Level Orange. The Employer then announced it was backing off  its plan to move to Phase Three.

Employees were understandably relieved, that is, until the Employer then announced it would launch a different version of Phase Three. Instead of having all employees come back 50% of the time, employees in 14 areas across nearly the entire organization would start delivering services in offsite locations such as workers’ homes and employers’ workplaces.

Not surprisingly, the Union has received many questions and concerns from employees on this latest decision. Many wonder why this is being undertaken now, with the COVID situation escalating and the province introducing stricter measures to control the spread.

The Employer’s stated reason for this plan is to address gaps in customer service. We all understand the importance of customer service. What we don’t understand is exactly where and how service is now lacking and where the demand for off-site services is coming from. This is because the Employer has been either unwilling or unable to tell us.

All of us understand that there are some circumstances, such as assisting workers with severe injuries, when in-person service is necessary. In those circumstances, the potential risk is balanced with the obvious need. However, as many of you have stated, what you object to is being subjected to unnecessary risk, where it is not clear that possible exposure to a serious hazard is justified by the need. That is what many see unfolding in this “modified” version of Phase Three.

In the Union’s discussion with the Employer since the beginning of the pandemic, the Employer has not wavered from its intention to have all employees back to work in the offices as soon as possible. The fact that many can do their jobs fully and safely from home and prefer to do so is irrelevant to them.

In recent discussions the Employer explicitly stated that its efforts to date, such as requiring people to be in the office one day a week, and “encouraging” or in some cases coercing them to be in the office 50% of the time, was never about customer service. It was just about getting people back to the office.

Because of this, it is understandable that there is a lot of skepticism around the Employer’s most recent decision to have staff start delivering in-person, offsite services.  Without real evidence to show us what the service gaps are and where the demand is coming from, many have concluded it is simply another way to break the pattern of people working from home and make it easier to transition to the ultimate goal of having everyone back in the office, regardless of the safety of members. As one member described it, it is “Phase Three dressed up as Customer Service.”

The fact that the Employer is willing to potentially expose members to a known serious hazard to achieve this goal is especially troubling for an organization that has as part of its mission  to protect workers from job hazards. In addition to this, members, to date, have been informed of three cases of COVID among WCB staff and another case among cleaning staff. This shows that the risk of this virus is very real and that members’ concerns are completely justified.

Another concern that has come up is the inconsistency of the return to the office plan. In one of his recent emails, Jamie Hall stated: “Employees who are not in one of these designated groups who are currently working in the office more than the equivalent of one day a week may reduce their office hours to this level.”  This does not appear to be the case in all areas, as some members are still being told to work 50% of the time in the office. These inconsistencies create a sense of unfairness and disorganization throughout this process.

As noted, many members have already contacted the Union with their concerns and questions. To ensure members’ voices are heard and conveyed (anonymously) to the Employer, please provide any input you may have about the Employer’s plans and how they may affect you by completing the following survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/P2TZF8K.

Please know that your Union continues to fight for your safety and fights to ensure your voices are heard during this difficult and stressful time. We hear you and thank you for sharing your concerns.

In Solidarity,

Dennis Kshyk
President, CUPE 1063

Denied an opportunity to voice your concerns

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As some of you may know, WCB Leadership has created a Recovery Planning Committee to assist with the WCB operationally coming back online as Manitoba’s Public Health unit lessens the Covid-19 restrictions.

Your union was notified of the creation of this committee at the same time and by the same process that all staff were informed, through a company-wide email as part of a daily COVID-19 update. This surprised us but, unfortunately, did not shock us.  Continue reading

Resuming “normal” operations

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In the spirit of openness and transparency, I would like to share with you, our members, a letter that I forwarded today to the WCB’s Chief Financial Officer, Andria McCaughan, regarding the organization’s plans to resume “normal” business operations. This planning process is proceeding without representation from your Union, and we feel that this is a missed opportunity to ensure our members’ voices are represented and heard during this important planning phase.  Continue reading

State of the union update

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STATE OF THE UNION UPDATE
To the membership of CUPE Local 1063

Despite finding ourselves in unusual and stressful times due to the COVID-19 crisis, I still feel it’s important for us to discuss a number developments and concerns that have come up over the past year that have an impact on all members.

Last Round of Bargaining
Following a long and grueling 30-plus months of bargaining, the resounding rejection of two proposed agreements, and the narrow acceptance of a third, we finally achieved a Collective Agreement in the Fall of 2019.

Some minimal gains were made, but nothing that truly recognizes the efforts that you, as employees, have put in to provide great service and help this organization meet its corporate goals. While the outcome was disappointing, even more disappointing was the Employer’s attitude and position throughout the bargaining process. This was characterized by their refusal to engage in meaningful dialogue and their unwillingness to provide a rationale for their position on various issues.

I want to thank all of you for your interest and engagement throughout the bargaining process. Your attendance at the bargaining meetings and your input throughout the process was crucial to our ability to maintain a strong and unified voice. I also want to thank you for your courage in repeatedly sending the message through your votes that you would not be taken for granted and were ready to fight for a fairer deal.

Top 30 Employer?
It’s ironic that in a year when the employer showed a persistent unwillingness to recognize the value of its employees, in 2019 the WCB was once again named one of Manitoba’s Top 30 Employers.

An article outlining why the WCB received this award stated that: “The WCB has placed a higher priority on striving to meet the safety and health of its members. It’s one of the reasons the WCB was recently recognized as one of Manitoba’s Top Employers for the ninth year in a row. Our Strategy to keep Manitoba workplaces safe and healthy includes our own employees. They’re a big reason for our success and it’s important that they work in an environment where they feel safe, valued and respected.”

The article goes on to say, “Consistent with the WCB’s prevention approach, mental health is a critical component of overall safety and health for staff. Resiliency workshops, mental health first aid training are offered. We recognize that psychological health is just as important and this is reflected in our approach to keeping our own staff safe and healthy.”

Those are nice words, but they are not reflected in what we see happening every day. I could recount many instances of managers intimidating employees. In one unit, we have had two employees quit and three transfer out because management showed no intention of addressing the mental health concerns arising from treatment by their manager. When the union raised these issues and even filed a grievance for one employee, our Top 30 Employer defended the manager and blamed the employee.

Quite some time ago, Mental Health First Aid training was offered. Employees signed up and completed this training. What has happened since? After the training, the names of all those who completed this training were to be posted so that all staff could approach one of these people trained in Mental Health First Aid to assist them. To date, there has been no follow through on this initiative.

In explaining how the WCB became a Top 30 employer, the Employer noted that they recognize the importance of psychological health and safety. If so, they have very strange ways of showing it.

Among the other reasons cited by the selection committee for the WCB being recognized as a Top 30 Employer is that they conduct a survey of their employees every two years. Not true. The last employee survey was conducted in early 2017.

You really have to wonder what this employer is telling the Top 30 Employer selection committee, or how much due diligence the committee does in verifying these claims.

Exec Connect
Many of you attended the recent Exec Connect, the first one held in three years. When asked at the event about why it had not been held for so long, the President and CEO said that it had been a difficult time with the negotiations taking place. Difficult times are precisely when real leaders show up.

The communications leading up the event stated that “There will be plenty of opportunity to ask any member of the EMC questions. If you’d like to submit your question in advance, please email them and your question will be provided to the appropriate EMC member.”

Some of you submitted written questions beforehand. One question (regarding the parking list) received something approaching a meaningful answer, another was partially answered, and the rest of the questions were ignored.

I recommend that in the future, members not submit questions in advance of events like Exec Connect, but instead ask them in person or have someone ask them at the event. This is your best chance for at least having the question recognized and answered in some way.

Employee Survey
Another issue raised at the Exec Connect was the fact that, while the new Corporate Strategy commits to actions to improve employee engagement, we have not had an employee survey in several years, which leaves the employer with little information to guide these actions. It was clear from the Employer’s response that they have no intention of undertaking a survey.

Your Union has therefore decided to take the lead and has contracted with an independent outside firm to conduct an employee survey.

The results from this survey will help gauge the level of employee engagement and help to identify specific employee concerns. All information collected will be held in strict confidence. Your input will be combined with that of others, and none of the answers will be attributed to you personally. When the survey is issued it will be sent to your home email address, so please ensure that the Local has your home email address and a telephone number where you can be reached.

Preparing for Bargaining
Because of the time taken to settle the previous agreement, the next round of negotiations will begin very soon in March 2021. As always, we will be seeking your input on concerns you would like to see brought forward in the next round of bargaining. We will also be reaching out to ask for members’ help with various aspects related to the upcoming contract negotiations. There is plenty of work to be done and plenty of ways to get involved.

Given the Employer’s approach to the previous negotiations, and the fact that the membership soundly rejected two contract offers and very narrowly accepted a third, we know that we need to be prepared for any eventuality, including job action. The lessons learned in the last round of bargaining will not be lost on us going forward.

As I mentioned earlier, we recognize that this is a stressful and unprecedented time for all of us, because of the COVID-19 crisis in which we find ourselves, but also because of the difficulties we have experienced in bargaining for a fair agreement for you, our members. Please know that your Union is fighting on your behalf to ensure fairness, and we are working to make sure that your efforts and work are recognized by the Employer. I ask all of you to stay engaged and involved, and we commit to keeping you informed and always ensuring your voices are heard.

In Solidarity
Dennis E. Kshyk
President, CUPE Local 1063

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