On April 10th, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) announced that the decision was made to move all Information Technology (IT) services from the SHA into eHealth Saskatchewan (eHS). This would include moving the entire IT budget of $39 million over to eHS and a plan to abolish IT positions within SHA with the notion of offering employment to all of those positions affected. There were assurances that there were to be no layoffs at this time and no privatization of the services. The Unions were given no idea of what the new structure would look like under eHS.
Since this announcement, CUPE, SGEU and SEIU-West have been working with the SHA, eHS and SGEU (the bargaining unit at eHS) to understand the impacts this transfer will have on our members and where there is the intention to negotiate a transfer agreement that is in our members’ best interests.
This week, the Employer sent a communique to members that contained some misleading information about the state of negotiations around the transfer of employees from the Saskatchewan Health Authority to eHealth. We wanted to send out a communique to clarify what has unfolded in the last six months, and to highlight the outstanding issues.
Debunking the SHA
THE SHA CLAIMS: “We have been in negotiations since our initial meeting on May 3”
FACT: Before you can commence negotiations you need to fully understand the issues at hand. In our initial meetings with the Employer, it was very apparent that they did not have a clear sense of the details around what the projected organizational structure would look like, nor could they provide information to our questions in terms of the impact on our IT members. We asked for details on a number of issues including seniority, wages, benefits, pensions and how members would be selected for positions within eHS.
Through July and early August, CUPE polled and consulted our IT members through a telephone town hall and compiled a number of questions for the Employer. There were 54 questions spanning from topics concerning pensions, benefits, position selection, trial and probationary issues, specifics around travelling time, wage scales, and qualifications to name a few, all for the purposes of gaining clarity. A letter was formulated and signed by the leaders of CUPE, SEIU-West, and SGEU and was provided to the SHA on August 21. We made it clear that the unions will meet with the Employer provided that our questions be answered prior to our next meeting.
Two more meetings took place in September (20 & 27) where we tried to get clear responses to our outstanding questions. There were still significant issues outstanding, including what would occur to our members’ pension and benefits. It was at this point that the unions took it upon themselves to send a letter to the Saskatchewan Health Employees Pension Plan (SHEPP) in an effort to get the information directly. On the morning of October 12, the unions met with SHEPP to learn about all of the options for our members moving forward.
The SHA is claiming we have been in negotiations since May 3, but negotiations only truly commenced on October 12 after our meeting with SHEPP. Now that we have a more comprehensive understanding of the situation and the impacts of the transfer, we are fully prepared to negotiate a deal that protects our members’ best interests, pending further information regarding employee pensions.
THE SHA CLAIMS: “We have not made sufficient progress.”
FACT: It has taken months of hard work from your union to gain clarity on how this transfer would impact members.
Following our meeting with SHEPP on October 12, the unions drafted a written “principles” document which outlined the union’s position and which would start the negotiating process. We presented the document to the Employer around 2 p.m., after which they reviewed and communicated with their “principals”. The Employer made no effort to ask questions or consider our positions and by 3:30 p.m., they responded to the unions. The response was that they were “disappointed” with what we had presented them, and that the parties are still “miles apart”, and as a result are “taking a step back” to consider their options.
CUPE, SGEU and SEIU-West made it clear to the Employer that we are willing to continue negotiating. The SHA self-imposed timeline of December 22 is two months away. There is still time to negotiate a transfer agreement that protects our members’ rights.
THE SHA CLAIMS: “The SHA has approached these negotiations in good faith”
FACT: Throughout this process it has been difficult for us to get answers for all of our questions and concerns. We are disappointed that the Employer has walked away from the table just as we had finally made progress. Since the beginning we have been clear: we are prepared to negotiate, but not the detriment of our members.
THE SHA CLAIMS: “We have a business need to move this transition forward”
FACT: The Saskatchewan Health Authority has set an arbitrary timeline of December 22. In efforts to meet their self-imposed deadline they have been trying to rush through negotiations without a clear understanding of the impact the transfer will have on staff.
We want to be clear. There is still time, and a willingness of the unions to negotiate a transfer agreement. It is SHA and eHS that has “stepped away to consider other options”. The SHA’s decision to walk away from negotiations will only delay the business transition which they claim to be concerned about.
The Outstanding Issues
What the Employer is Proposing:
The SHA presented the unions with a “Framework and Principles” document which essentially outlined how the Employer would like to see the process unfold in terms of options for SHA employees moving into eHS. The document itself did not reflect all of the protections and benefits afforded to our members under the respective collective agreements. In particular, the Employer is proposing concessions to the rate of severance pay in order to make the move into eHS more appealing.
What the Unions are Proposing:
In our principles document, the unions outlined our expectations for a transfer agreement. This document outlined important issues like the ability to transfer seniority and benefits as set out in the applicable collective agreements. We also want to ensure that the current rights and benefits you are afforded under your CUPE collective agreement would continue at your employment at eHS. We want to ensure that recognition of previous experience will be considered and that approved vacation leaves by the SHA be recognized and honoured by eHS. We want to ensure the integrity and viability of our members’ pension going forward.
Your union continues to advocate for your interests. We are urging that the Employer come back to the table, and we are confident we can reach a deal that works for both parties.
CUPE Local 5430 President