As I write this report, it has been a full year since the Corona Virus was declared a global pandemic, and life as we know it changed forever. It has been quite the rollercoaster ride as we got used to wearing a mask, keeping our distance from both those we love and complete strangers, and letting our work life completely invade all areas of our home life. Every aspect of our lives, things we simply take for granted and never consciously think about, has all been changed in the past year. We have had to learn so many new things and forget just as many old habits. We have had to become experts in risk management, education, immunology, and new technology. And through it all we tried our best to live a “normal” life.
The impact of the past 12 months on our mental health will be just as significant as COVID19 itself. Most of us will not contract COVID19; but all of us, in one way or another, will have a mental health reaction to COVID19 before the pandemic is over.
Since my last report in September 2020, I have been working hard on getting the Department to take meaningful action on the serious mental health issues facing our members. I have often described the Department’s mental health portfolio as an old massive stone ball sitting in an overgrown mossy forest; they don’t remember who put it there, no one is really responsible for maintaining it, they are not even sure what to do with it, but they are pretty sure it should not be talked about for some reason. As the UVAE Mental Health Champion, my goal right now is not to “get the ball rolling”. VAC is nowhere near ready for that yet. My goal is to get the ball cleaned off and get the area around it ready. My goal is to get the ball dug out from generations of neglect and avoidance. For now, getting the Department to even admit that the ball exists is a victory.
I am happy to report that I have been able to not only get senior management to admit that there may be mental health crisis in the Department (even if we differ on the severity of the issue), but also agree that something needs to be done. We have started collaboration to work through 25 recommendations made by UVAE over the past year, with a number of activities already in progress and other soon to begin.
Your National Executive Officers have similarly committed to making our Union a “Trauma-Informed Organization”. The first step in this process will be for all elected Officers to receive “Trauma-Informed Leadership” training before the end of June 2021. We hope that by taking this first step we can model the kind of behaviour we wish to see from the Employer. But more than that, we hope that this will allow us to begin revamping how our Union works so that we can better support our local elected officers and our members.
I also have the honour to represent UVAE on the Treasury Board/PSAC “Joint Committee on Mental Health Support Mechanisms for Employees”, established by MOU during the last round of contract negotiations. Given the nature of the work done by our members, VAC was identified as one of the Departments having a much higher than average risk of exposure to psychologically unsafe working conditions, such as exposure to trauma or threats. This committee has met once thus far, and plans to meet roughly every 6 weeks as we work through our mandate “to guide a study on support mechanisms for employees in the Program and Administrative Services and Technical Services bargaining units inherently exposed, in the course of their duties, to explicit and disturbing material, and/or potentially threatening situations.” The final report of this committee is expected to be ready in June 2022, but this timeline may change as we look deeper into the issues facing the various departments.
In the coming weeks and months, I will be attending the PSAC Atlantic Regional Convention, the Canadian Labour Congress Triennial Convention, and the UVAE Triennial Convention. These will all be held virtually – the new “normal” of our COVID19 world.
For those who like numbers, here are some stats for the period of September 2020 to March 2021.
- Hours in excess of the regular
37.5 hr work week =105
- Calls with Local Officers = 83
- Consultations with PSAC, UVAE, Others = 28
- Meetings with the Employer = 38
- Level 1 Grievance Consultations = 17
- Level 1 Grievance Presentations = 3
- Level 2 Grievance Presentations: = 4
- Level 3 Grievance Presentations = 3
- Active Cases (other than
Grievances) = 9
Over the past year I have been fortunate enough to be “liberated” from my regular VAC duties and able to focus on my Union work full time. This is an important concession from the Employer that both recognizes the important work of the Union and the need for a stable work/life balance.
The Employer had granted this to PIPSC many years ago, but not UVAE (For reference, PIPSC represents roughly 300 members nationwide; UVAE represents nearly 3,000!). When it was granted to us in 2020, it was as a “trial period”. At the time of this writing, I have no idea if this will continue after next week. If not, then I return to full-time duties at VAC, and continue full-time Union work. Make no mistake – the RVP role is a full-time job! The Employer knows this, which is why they have been trying to use Liberation as a tool to keep the Union quiet on certain uncomfortable issues; behave or lose your Liberation. What the Employer forgets is that none of us had Liberation when we ran for these positions. It is a nice to have, but not a necessity; and certainly not something any of us is willing to give up our integrity to obtain or keep. But it never ceases to amaze me how the Employer, time and again, thinks that the Union will ever respond to threats. Regardless of what the Employer decides, the work of the Union will always continue.