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Slow contract negotiations ‘frustrating’ for health care union members

MAHCP president Jason Linklater is in the north for information pickets just over 10 days since the union voted 99 per cent in favour of a strike mandate.
Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals president Jason Linklater stands outside the Thompson General Hospital with members of the union during an information picket on April 25. The MAHCP has been without a contract for five years and its members voted 99 per cent in favour of a strike mandate April 16 as non-monetary negotiations alone have taken more than a year so far.

Health care workers in a variety of occupations are in a three-day stretch of information pickets in Northern Manitoba’s three largest communities as they try to urge the government to offer them a new contract. 

More than 6,500 members of Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals haven’t had a raise since 2017 and they voted 99 per cent in favour of a strike mandate on April 16.

At an information picket outside Thompson General Hospital April 25, MAHCP president Jason Linklater said the delay in reaching a new deal is costing the workers the union represents money as they can not keep up with the rapid inflation of the past year or so. 

“It’s a very frustrating thing to listen to the minister talk about the process, the bargaining process, because, when you’ve been without a contract for five years, to some degree the process hasn’t been respected,” he said.

The fact that members voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike mandate, which gives the bargaining committee the legal right to withdraw services, apart from those deemed essential, doesn’t mean they want to walk off the job but is a symbol of their frustration, said Linklater.

“A strike is the last thing that we want but we firmly believe that now's the time for us to send a message to government that they need to get step one in the process complete, which is getting a contract in place that's been missing for over five years for the majority of us.”

The union notified the government of its desire to bargain five years ago but negotiations didn’t begin until last year.

“We’ve been at the table in non-monetary negotiations over a year now,” he said, noting that one year is usually the amount of time it takes to hammer out the entire contract.

Thompson resident Tanya Burnside, MAHCP’s vice-president, says frustration is a dominant theme among the union’s members in the Hub of the North right now. 

“You’re going to hear the word frustrated a lot,” she said, and it arises from the slowness of the bargaining process as well as the lack of acknowledgement and recognition it indicates. 

With health care workers in every department stretched thin across the province and a situation that is even worse in Thompson, which has always struggled, like many northern, rural and remote communities, with recruitment, a new contract is sorely needed.

“We can’t get anyone to come with a contract that’s expired and a government that’s not willing to recognize and place value in our work,” Burnside said. “The cost of living has gone up 20 per cent since the contract expired and I’m still making the same money. We need to be recognized for the value we bring to the system and that’s why we’re all here today.”

A spokesperson for Shared Health said work to agree on a new contract is ongoing.

“Active discussions are currently ongoing with the union representing allied healthcare staff, to secure a new, fair and long-term contract that includes retroactive wage adjustments,” the spokesperson said in an email. “Mr. Arne Peltz – a mediator with more than 30 years’ experience – has been engaged to assist in concluding this collective agreement.”

Thompson NDP MLA Eric Redhead was out at Tuesday’s information picket in Thompson to show his support for the health care workers.

“Five years with no contract is unacceptable. I think it shows how this government just doesn’t care,” he said. 

Making statements about how valued health care workers are is great, the MLA said, but the government isn’t putting its money where its mouth is.

“There’s no respect for our frontline health care heroes.,” he said. “The NDP stand beside and support them. I’m hoping that they can reach a fair agreement soon and I’m proud to stand beside them here today.”

An information picket was scheduled for Flin Flon April 26 and at St. Anthony’s General Hospital in The Pas on April 27.

The MAHCP represents health care workers in more than 40 occupations, including lab technologists and diagnostic imaging employees, social workers, respiratory therapists, midwives and dietitians.

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