Over the past several weeks I have been reflecting on the changes in the Atlantic Region. Since becoming RVP, the Region has been relatively quiet. The problems that did arise, while being complex, are still standard for a region of our size. Even the sudden changes brought about by the COVID-19 shutdown were minimal. And then the offices began to reopen.
The reopening of the Field Offices has been nothing short of chaos. Old gripes and grievances that the Employer ignored since March 2020 are back in full force. Occupational Health and Safety issues are exploding all over the place. The Employer is resisting Duty to Accommodate requests with more force than I have ever seen before, citing COVID-19 policies as their excuse for not accommodating our members. The lack of proper staffing and the ongoing vacancies in key positions is placing even more stress on members who are forced to work in a field office more frequently than they are comfortable with. On the Field Operation side, the Employer is quite literally making things up as they go along. There is a very clear divide between the rules and policies being used for the Head Office locations and Area Offices. And we haven’t even received a date for when the Dartmouth Operations Centre might start reopening.
As Mental Health Champion I have been working very hard to mitigate the mental health nightmare that the office reopening is creating. Despite numerous obstacles and excessive delays from the Employer, there have been some success stories. Even if it was not provided prior to the reopening off the offices as was the intent, I was able to pressure the Employer into signing a contract with the Specialized Operational Services (SOS) unit at Health Canada to provide “How to Psychologically Support Employees as they Return to Workplaces” training, provided by Dr. Jean-Luc LeBlanc, to members of the front-line management teams (VSTM & above). Six sessions were provided in June, with 30 participants each, and a further six sessions planned for the fall. This is in addition to ongoing plans to roll-out a nation-wide “Trauma-Informed Leadership” program for all levels of management.
As RVP I feel I must make note of a definite attitude shift within the Department’s Labour Relations Directorate. Over the years I feel that I had an acceptable (not always good, but rarely bad) working relationship with the Labour Relations Advisors I worked with, and that we were all ultimately working towards a mutually beneficial outcome. Not anymore. These past few months I have noticed a definite shift. Labour Relations seems to have adopted a very clear anti-Union attitude. If the Union says the sky is blue, LR will argue that it is nighttime, or argue the shade of blue, or that it is cloudy – anything to contradict the Union. I really do not feel LR has any regard now for their legal responsibilities or the interests of our members. Far too many times now I have seen them act in ways that are harmful to our members, and in fact harmful to the Department. This is a situation that cannot continue until there are very serious repercussions.
One of the side effects of office reopening has been an increase in Duty to Accommodate requests. While our members worked from home, there was not much need for complex accommodations. Once the standard ergonomic pieces were addressed, working from home allowed our members to manage their medical/family needs with little intervention from the Employer. But now that we are returning to the offices, I find myself managing or consulting on an ever-increasing number of accommodation requests, which are in turn made overly complicated by the Employer. I cannot escape the feeling that the Employer wants to find any excuse to declare the hybrid working model a failure and force everyone to return to the office full-time.
In order to facilitate better communication between UVAE National Office, the RVP, and Local Officers, I changed the Monthly Local President’s Meeting to a Monthly Local Officers Meeting. All Local Officers meet with the RVP monthly to discuss common issues, brainstorm solutions, and coordinate our membership engagement efforts. This has been a great success and an invaluable resource in my efforts to provide effective leadership within the region.
As I mentioned in previous reports, I have been negotiating with PSAC Atlantic to arrange Local Development Training for all my Local Officers. All our elected officers are new to their positions, and COVID-19 restrictions means that the core training modules [Talking Union Basics, Local Officer Training, Grievance Handling Training] were not available to our members in Atlantic Canada (even though they were readily available elsewhere in Canada last year!) Unfortunately, I have decided to cut my losses when it comes to arranging the necessary training with PSAC Atlantic and I am frankly getting nowhere. PSAC Atlantic has gone through multiple staffing changes in the past two years, with us being on the third education officer in 18-months. Every time the Education Officer changed, the plans we had been negotiating disappear and I have to start from square one again. I thought we finally had a plan in place this summer, but those promises were empty words as PSAC Atlantic Education decided that their priorities now did not include providing the training to UVAE when we require it. With the support of UVAE National Office, I am developing and will be providing my own training program to my Local Executives at the end of September. I cannot allow our Local Presidents and Vice-Presidents to arrive at the UVAE President’s Conference without the foundational training required to make sure they get the most out of the experience.
RVP-Atlantic By The Numbers
So far this year, I have:
Worked Overtime: 39 hours
Calls with Members: 27
Calls with Local Officers: 28
Consultations with UVAE/PSAC: 22
Meetings with the Employer: 18
Active Grievance Files: 4
# of Non-Grievance Files: 10
As always, it is a great honour to serve as RVP for the Atlantic provinces. We have an amazing group of Local Executive Officers who are incredibly dedicated to meeting the needs of their members. They have been a tremendous support to me, and I cannot thank them enough for their work.