I respectfully submit my report covering my tenure as Acting National President from September 27, 2018 to January 8, 2019 and as your National President from January 9, 2019 to present.
Since becoming the elected leader of the Union of Veterans’ Affairs Employees, I have been extremely busy in the National Office. It was a steep learning curve as I began to deal with a variety of on-going files, situations, and events. This report will cover many of those issues and I will report on all activities except for those that are confidential because of human resource or legal issues.
I would describe the UVAE National Office as small, but mighty, and I am amazed at how much we actually accomplish on behalf of the members. Some of our work may be invisible because it happens behind the scenes, but it is essential to ensure the continued functioning of our Component. I want to acknowledge and thank the staff of the National Office for their efforts every day on behalf of our members.
I also want to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the National Executive Officers. They have been supportive and strong in working with me on some very difficult issues as we worked to build a cohesive team to face these challenges. Thank you. One of the reasons for our success is that we have been trying to improve and enhance communications between ourselves and with UVAE members. I will continue those efforts as we move forward.
In addition to our day to day functions I have been very active in efforts to pressure the Government to deal with the pressing concerns of UVAE members. This includes the morale in the Department, case load numbers, backlog of disability files, excessive overtime, health and safety concerns and a variety of other key issues that impact our members. This requires regular contact, communication and meetings with departmental officials at all levels from the local and regional to national office.
Many of our problems are also political or require political action in order to resolve them. To that end I have written and met with the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs on several occasions. I have also written to his counterparts in both the NDP and Conservative Party and have met with the NDP Veterans’ Affairs critic and I am waiting to schedule a meeting with the Conservative critic.
In 2019 I made a presentation on behalf of UVAE members to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs that was reviewing a suggestion that our department be merged with National Defense. I made a strong case to have our departments kept separate and to date that remains the case.
In March 2020, I presented our case to members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans’ Affairs who were looking at the backlog in disability pension applications. Our presentation focused on the extremely high case load of Case Managers within Veterans’ Affairs Canada and the pressures being felt by UVAE members across the country. We stressed the need to hire additional front-line staff at all levels in order to help deal with the backlog and improve services to veterans and their families and create a better work-life balance for UVAE members. I will report more on this later in my report and I can assure you that those efforts to put pressure on our political bosses will continue.
Deer Lodge Centre
One of my first tasks on the job as National President was to get up to speed with what had been going on for our members at Deer Lodge Centre. This included reviewing the actions taken to date by our Component and PSAC regarding Bill C29 which was put in place by the Manitoba Government to reduce the number of bargaining units in the health care sector. This necessitated several trips to Deer Lodge Centre in Winnipeg to touch base with the Local Executive, Deer Lodge members, the PSAC REVP and the Commissioner overseeing the vote process.
We held a press conference in Winnipeg with PSAC National Executive Vice-President, Magali Picard and PSAC REVP, Marianne Hladun in early August 2019. We had families of some of the Deer Lodge Veterans scheduled to attend the press conference to speak out regarding their concerns at the Centre, but they felt forced to withdraw out of fear that their loved ones would be retaliated against and their services would be even further negatively impacted. We did, however, have a few of the families provide us with written statements of their concerns regarding the changes taking place at Deer Lodge and the impact to their family members.
Over the next couple of months, we were very busily engaged in trying to have the political leadership in Ottawa and Manitoba deal with the concerns of UVAE members and the Veterans they served at Deer Lodge Centre. I personally wrote to the Prime Minister, the NDP Party Leader, the Manitoba Health Minister, the Conservative Party Leader and all the Opposition Veterans’ Affairs critics. I also wrote to the new Minister of Veterans’ Affairs seeking his intervention several times until he finally met with me several months later after we released some of the reports we had received from families about the very poor treatment of Veterans at the Centre.
At the meeting with the Minister, I requested an independent investigation into the quality of care being provided to our Veterans at Deer Lodge Centre. His response was that he would be sending someone out to take a look. To get ready for this visit I travelled again to Winnipeg and met with some of the families who had the most concerns. I arranged for a meeting between them and the Director from VAC who had come from Ottawa so that they had a place to raise their concerns that have been ignored by the CEO. Despite this initiative on the part of the union, we were excluded from that meeting. I am still waiting for a report from this meeting from the Minister.
When the vote was finally held and the results were announced, the PSAC was not the majority choice of the workers in that part of the Manitoba Health system. As of August 22, 2019, it became official that the members at Deer Lodge Centre would no longer be represented by UVAE/PSAC. We were in a state of transition until the new charters were issued in December 2019. This was a very hard time for the executive and members at Deer Lodge Centre.
I have sent a letter to the Minister to follow up on the information provided to him through the director from the meetings with the Veterans’ families and the visit to the Centre. Regardless of who represents the members at DLC, UVAE will continue to be a voice for all Veterans and their families across Canada.
I would like to personally thank PSAC Regional Executive Vice-President, Marianne Hladun for all her support with DLC and her continued support as we worked through the transition. This was a time of continued uncertainty for our members at Deer Lodge Centre with the implementation of Bill 29 and for our members not knowing when their new unions would start to represent them which made each of their days harder while they continued to focus on providing quality care to Veterans. On December 13, 2019, the members at DLC officially transferred to their new unions.
I want to thank the Deer Lodge Centre Local Executive and the RVP for Deer Lodge Centre on behalf of UVAE for their years of representation and hard work for the members. The Local Executive have not had the easiest of times with management/HR dealings at Deer Lodge Centre and we wish them much success
es in continuing to fight for themselves and the Veterans they serve.
As noted above, we had a very aggressive campaign to push politicians at both the federal and provincial levels to take positive steps to remedy the situation at Deer Lodge. At the same time, we flagged several issues including the backlogs, heavy caseloads and excessive overtime to the Minister and the Opposition Critics in Ottawa. We followed up on these efforts with a questionnaire to the political parties prior to the 2019 federal election. Then, we produced and distributed our brochure: Our Veterans Deserve Better and continued to lobby the parties during the election on behalf of UVAE members. This brochure was sent to all the RVPs for distribution to our membership which highlighted the parties record with our Veterans and encouraged them to ask questions of the candidates in their ridings on our issues.
Once the election was over, we immediately contacted the political parties to remind them of their commitments to Veterans and UVAE members. Once the new Minister was appointed, we sought and received a meeting with him. Our meeting was cordial, but I can report that I do have the confidence that he will intervene in the department in order to address our concerns. We continue to stay in contact with the Minister’s office and have met with the NDP Critic and are arranging a meeting with the Conservatives to seek their support.
I have noted above, the presentation we made to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and while they asked many questions, I do not feel that they will make any substantive recommendations that will fix either the backlog or our members’ concerns. There was supposed to be a plan brought forward by the department to deal with the backlog within 30 days, but no union representatives or front-line staff were consulted on this plan.
All of this means that we will have to continue to press our political leaders to deal with our outstanding concerns. That will have to be a priority for the new UVAE National Executive team and our Component in the days and months ahead.
National Office Operations
One big change at the National Office was creating and staffing a part-time Labour Relations Officer. I am pleased to report that the new part-time Labour Relations Officer was hired and started on February 4, 2019. A dues increase to pay for this position was approved at the 2017 Triennial Convention, however there was a delay in implementing this change, so the dues increase did not start until June 2018. The hiring process took a considerable amount of time, but that gap between the dues increase coming into effect and the actual start date allowed the new Labour Relations Officer to work 4 and sometimes 5 days a week in order to clean up a backlog of outstanding files.
We also had to let the former Financial Administration Officer go early in 2019. We did complete a staffing process and a new FAO was hired in September 2019 and is now fully onboard and working 4 days per week. I will report further on the role of the FAO under finances.
Our new Financial Administration Officer has done a phenomenal job in cleaning up the Component finance files, reconciling files and providing monthly reports. This has allowed me to have a much clearer and timely picture of where the Component sits financially. I have also assigned the FAO to work with the Component Finance Committee as a resource and to review our finances with the Committee. I have also worked with the FAO to put in place internal controls regarding the Component finances to ensure that there is transparency and protection for the members. This includes the validation of all expenditures.
In 2019, we transferred our investments and moved some into long term while keeping other investments in short term GIC’s to have the funds set aside for expenditures from the Component. This includes monies for the 2020 Triennial Convention and the severance pay coverage for UVAE staff. Our Component did not have specified funds set aside for severance pay and the Component has a long-term employee who is eligible to retire, and we needed to ensure that the Component had the funds set aside to cover this liability.
We also started to move our banking over to BMO Bank of Montreal in February 2020 as the services we have been receiving from Laurentian Bank has been lacking in customer service. Also, Laurentian does not have any locations that are accessible to our office for daily banking needs and everything had to be done via courier, regular mail or an ATM machine. As I write this report, we are finalizing the move of our Component’s daily banking from Laurentian Bank to the Bank of Montreal.
Our new FAO had been trying to work with our auditor to finalize all adjustments required so that we could close our 2018 books. Unfortunately, due to a variety of delays and adjustments, we did not get our 2018 Audit back from the Auditors until November 2019. This was unacceptable regardless of the changes that took place in the Component. We disengaged services with our previous auditor in December 2019 due to the delays and errors that we felt should have been caught by an auditing firm especially one who had been doing the books for more than 4 years. We hired a new Audit firm to do our 2019 Audit. As I write this report, we have already been engaged with our new auditors providing required background information and current financial records for their review and audit. We hope to have our Audited Financials out by end of July 2020.
We have finally launched the new and redesigned UVAE website on March 20, 2020. This was a long and difficult process, however, we finally ironed out the technical problems and are fully operational. The new website is up to date, resource filled and easy to navigate. The National Office is striving to provide the most up to date information and guidance for all members. Please feel free to provide the National Office with your feedback on the website or any other communications concern.
We are working every single day to improve our communications to and from UVAE members and to get the UVAE message out to the general public and the media. This has included regular updates and social media postings with information on specific issues as well as press releases and developing media contacts to raise the profile of UVAE and the work of our members. One example of this is the Lionel Desmond case where we publicly commented on the staff shortages, backlogs and heavy workloads of our members who are dealing with mental health issues and the struggles they have to serve Veterans and maintain their own well-being. This attracted attention from national and local media, and we will make another intervention on this case once the inquiry has been completed.
I have reviewed all vendor contracts that our Component had in place to ensure that they covered what our requirements were and to see if we were getting the best services for our funds. I found that our Component did not have Directors’ and Officers’ Insurance which all Components should have in place to ensure that our elected officers are covered if they were ever to be sued in the discharge of their elected duties. Our Component, as of mid-September 2019 now has this insurance in place.
At the end of January 2020, the postage machine contract was up for renewal with Pitney Bowes and based on the amount that we spend on postage during a year, it did not make financial sense to be paying for a monthly rental of a postage machine on top of the postage charges themselves. The Component will now be using regular stamps to mail items out from the National Office. We have set up a Canada Post business account for when we ship out larger packages. We also purchased a small scale for the office which weighs packages up to 50lbs which meets our office needs.
Finally, we made the decision to withdraw our Component from WSIB in September 2019. We contacted WSIB and since we already provide Short-Term Disability and Long-Term Disability paid for by the employer, we were able to drop out of WSIB. This provides a small savings to the Component. There is no negative impact to the UVAE Staff by withdrawing from WSIB as they have benefits through STD and LTD.
Veterans Affairs Canada
Union Management Consultation Committees
With Veterans Affairs Canada, at the time of writing this report in March 2020, I am currently reviewing and updating the National Terms of Reference for Labour Management Consultation Committee’s for all levels across Canada with Corporate Labour Relations as the previous ones have not been reviewed or updated in close to 8 years. VAC went through a governance change in one of our Directorates in April of 2019 and have asked the Union to change some of our formats of meetings to match their governancechange and other updates required. There are still more discussions to be had on the National Terms of Reference and I am hopeful to have the final consultations with VAC completed before too long.
Essential Service Agreements
I completed the negotiations and collaboration with the Department in April 2019 on the Essential Service Agreements, to be used if we were to go on strike. There are only 247 ESA employees that have been agreed to.
Health and Safety
I continue to work on Mental Health Issues, Reg 20 Complaints, accommodation issues, domestic violence situations, terminations for incapacity, increasing workloads, rejections on probations and staff burnout.
As you know our department won a mental health award this year, though as a team, the NEO have been challenging this as our department is not a workplace of choice yet and the mental health issues for our members and our clients are real and on the rise. The burnout is real, the number of case files are still too way high, areas are short staffed, need to hire more employees, and an increase of overtime in some directorates to name a few are issues that I have been raising at varying levels of the department. I will continue to raise these issues in meetings and in the media until they hire more staff and decrease the number of case files to an appropriate level. We need to continue to work together at all levels, local, regional and national to raise awareness of the issues that have an impact on our members and help effect the change we know is needed for our members.
We have also seen an increase of delays within the Duty to Accommodate including new accommodation needs and where HR or management has misplaced previously approved accommodations and members are having to go through multiple more steps to keep or update their accommodation needs under a new manager or supervisor. We have raised our concerns with the department and have presented a Duty to Accommodate Plan document that we hope the Department will work with the Union to finish collaborating on our ideas in making the Duty to Accommodate Process a more seamless less stressful process for all our members.
We are also becoming more concerned with safety incidents at VAC offices across the country. There have been a growing number of serious situations where UVAE members have feared for their physical safety. They have reported the incident to management, but action to improve their safety has been slow and, in some cases, has not happened at all. We have raised this issue with senior management and their response has been that it is a security issue, not a health and safety one. We are getting advice from the PSAC Health and Safety and may file a complaint with Labour Canada on this issue.
We will continue to challenge management and human resources on these situations and all other matters that come to our attention from the regions. We will work with them and push them towards creating a better workplace for all members.
As I write this from home, I am hoping that you are all in your homes and staying safe from this COVID-19 attack on our world. I know that is a challenging time and that many of you do not have the proper tools or equipment to serve the Veterans as well as you can, but your efforts are greatly appreciated. If not by the department, then by your union.
I also know that when this crisis is over that you will be 100%+ every day to give back to our Veterans who fought for us, for our country so that we could have the lives we have today. Keep up the great work and dedication to our Veterans. Our Veterans deserve the best service we can provide, and I know you’ve got that covered.
Thank you to all UVAE Members for your service to our Veterans, thank you for all the support you provide to your fellow members in your office and across the Country. Thank you for your activism work in support of protecting members rights in the workplace.
I would like to thank the NEO for all your support and hard work. We have completed a lot of work over the past two years, we have had ups and downs, we have had many changes and challenges though as a Team, We Stood UNITED; We Stood STRONG; We were COMMUNICATIVE and have made some great changes with NEO Committees, transparency to our membership, increased communications throughout the Component and an increase in the membership engagement. I am proud to represent all UVAE members. Thank you for all your continued support and dedication. I look forward to continuing to provide leadership within UVAE and to move us forward in the days and months ahead.UVAE-National-President-Activities-1-1