After we participated in a very disappointing FSSS bargaining Council; there was a proposal from the CHUM union to restart our negotiations on the basis of our original demands of $3 in the first year and $1 or 3%, whichever is more advantageous for the other two years of the agreement. This proposal was set aside by the FSSS leadership for another project that will be presented to us in August.
We, the MUHC executive committee supported the CHUM union’s proposal as many other unions did and we registered our dissent on the proposal that was brought forward by the FSSS leadership.
It is not with a happy heart that we are registering our dissent but because we fear that we will miss a unique opportunity to obtain justice for our members who are being pushed into accepting the leadership’s proposal. After all it’s been over 15 years since our salaries haven’t even been keeping up with inflation.
It is disturbing to this us that some unions along with the FSSS leadership have tried to discredit the CHUM union by accusing it of not being supportive of the proposals of the FSSS leadership’s negotiations because of an article that the CHUM union published on its website.
It is very serious and very disturbing act against our democratic union rights that this proposal attacking the CHUM union was put to a vote.
We, your MUHC delegates at this meeting want to show our solidarity with the CHUM union by publishing their article in its entirety on our website..
Robert Lagueux, président for
Executive Committee MUHCEU.
BELOW IS A TRANSLATION OF THE CHUM ARTICLE:
Let’s take charge of our negotiations!
SECHUM Report on the FSSS Federal bargaining Council (25, 26 June 2020)
He who fights may lose, but he who does not fight has already lost.
On 25 and 26 June last, the extraordinary joint Federal Sector Council of the Federation of Health and Social Services (CSN) took place. It was the first decision-making body on public sector bargaining since last February.
The FSSS Federal Council brings together the elected members of local unions representing more than 90,000 people working in the health and social services network. During this proceeding, the representatives unanimously rejected the CAQ’s last offer.
However, a lively debate on the strategy to be adopted in order to get as much as possible, was held throughout the day on Friday. The Syndicat des employé.es du CHUM (SECHUM CSN) tabled a proposal to wage a real fight against the government to obtain our initial wage demands, that is, increases of $3/hour in the first year, then $1/hour in each of the following two years ($3, $1, $1). This proposal was supported by many other local unions. However, the FSSS bargaining committee feels that the current economic situation does not allow it.
Due to lack of time, our proposal was “left on the table”. That is to say, we will have to continue discussions at a future meeting to be held on July 8 and 9.
What started the fire?
The SECHUM and several other local unions have been fighting since the fall of 2018 for a fixed amount of our wage demands and a substantial increase in the first year (3$/h) as a wage catch-up.
We won our point in October 2019. Since then, we have been looking forward to the CSN and FSSS defending their members’ mandate and campaigning to defend the principle of the fixed amount and our wage demands.
The absence of the Inter-Union Common Front in 2020 allows us to determine our own mobilization schedule. Faced with the absence of a national campaign, at the end of January 2020, we adopted a proposal at the union council meeting to begin our pressure tactics in the spring and not wait until the fall. We did not want to repeat the 2015 scenario.
We knew that our wage demands had to be widely discussed in public opinion. Therefore, we had to start mobilization as soon as possible. A state of health emergency was declared before we could defend this idea in the Council of the FSSS.
A counter-offer that doesn’t sit well
On March 25, in full confinement, the CSN made a first counter-offer to François Legault’s government: an extension of the current collective agreement for one year, but with percentage wage increases. The SECHUM dissented and denounced both the decrease in our wage demands and the proposal to suspend negotiations for 18 months. If the government wants to negotiate, let’s negotiate!
On March 27, we said, “for SECHUM, there is no reason to lower our initial demands. For example, why demand a $3 bonus only for the duration of the crisis, when we were already asking for a $3 increase in the first year? Before we were in the black, now we are in the black and we are risking our lives every day“.
Our worst fears were confirmed when we received Bargaining Update #10 on May 21. It was now official: the CSN made a counter-offer to the 3-year downward trend without any democratic consultation of the members. The 3$/hour wage increase became a COVID premium and the first year’s wage increase for public sector employees was now a percentage. There was also the creation of a working committee to discuss the possibility of merging the deficit pension plan of the bosses with the workers’ pension plan (which is in good financial health). For us, that’s a resounding “no”. There is nothing to discuss. There is therefore no reason to create a working committee.
Petition for a democratic and decision-making réunion
At the end of May, 10 local trade unions, including SECHUM, asked for a democratic and decision-making body to discuss the CSN’s counter-offer under Article 37 of the FSSS statutes. This request was deemed “inadmissible” by the FSSS executive. We requested a “special session of the Federal Council” (Article 37), rather than a “special session of the Federal Sector Council” (Article 48).
Here, bureaucratic formalism was consciously used to harm us. If our request had been accepted, we would have determined the composition of the agenda. By refusing it, but agreeing to call a meeting, it was the FSSS Executive Committee that determined the agenda. The article we referred to in our request was not the right one, it is true, but the content of the letter was clear enough to understand the meaning of our request. If at the SECHUM union council, for example, we rejected all the complaints that did not refer to the right article in our statutes, we would not have a lot of debate…
Moreover, if we had not made this request, is it to be understood that we would never have had a Council meeting?
When the SECHUM asked on June 25 why we had not held a democratic Council meeting before, the official answer of the FSSS leadership was that it was “impossible to do so for technical reasons”.
The “technical” problem is, that at the FSSS, all 4 categories are present. We vote by categories. Except that during the ZOOM proceeding, we took turns voting. If the situation requires a rally of the categories in case of a tie, it is possible to create separate “Rooms” for each category in order to caucus. So we still don’t really know why there wasn’t a decision making Council meeting before the end of June.
Submission of the SECHUM proposal
As we feared, the agenda of the Federal Sector Council FSSS on 25 and 26 June was “loaded”. We could not see where we were going to be able to defend our point. What irritated us the most was that more than half of the items had already been presented either in an informal meeting, by video or in writing. There was nothing new. We didn’t want our point to be presented on Friday late in the afternoon. We therefore proposed an amendment to the agenda to put our item at the beginning.
That amendment was not accepted by the floor. But there was another amendment to put our item in the middle of the agenda. So we spent all day on June 25 listening to information that had already been broadcast overwhelmingly. In the end, we were lucky. We were going to be able to defend our point at the beginning of the second day, Friday morning.
The proposal we proposed and debated on 26 June is as follows:
Let us at least have the courage to stand up for what we want!
Considering the abandonment of the mandate of our salary demands (3$, 1$, 1$) by the CSN and the FSSS, as well as the absence of a campaign since the beginning of negotiations with the government to defend its demands ;
That the FSSS defend its initial mandate of $3, $1, $1 that was entrusted to it by the members;
That the FSSS undertake a membership mobilization campaign and an intense public communications campaign to explain the accuracy of our wage demands.
Which side are you on?
The FSSS bargaining committee feels that the current context is not conducive to fighting. The government’s economic forecasts show that we have gone from a $10 billion surplus to a projected $8 billion deficit. In addition, we are now facing a high unemployment rate, whereas before the pandemic we were almost fully employed. In our opinion, the function of the union leadership is not to relay the government’s opinion, but to defend the interests of workers.
Most of the money distributed during the pandemic came from the federal government, not the CAQ. We don’t know where is the federal government money to raise the wages of essential service workers. In the $8 billion deficit forecast, there is money that was already earmarked for infrastructure. In addition, big corporations are still not paying their fair share of taxes and continue to hide a lot of money in tax havens (some of which made record profits during the pandemic).
Unlike the profits of big companies, our salary increases will be reinjected directly into the Quebec economy. We don’t hide our money abroad! The money for public services, it’s there! It must be said!
If the health of the population is really the government’s priority, it must take the means to put its words into action. It is disappointing to see the FSSS negotiating committee defend the CAQ’s economic forecasts without nuance. The CAQ will never say publicly that there is a way to get money. So, if the labour movement does not do it itself, no one will.
Fighting, even during a pandemic
The other argument put forward is the difficulty of organizing in times of social distancing. This is indeed a complicating issue. But if the trade union movement had given up on every difficulty in organizing, the trade union movement would never have seen the light of day. We must at least try to fight with the means we have. As Bertolt Brecht said, “He who fights may lose, but he who does not fight has already lost.“
Because of the state of emergency, we can’t have strike days like in 2015. Is it really so bad? At SECHUM, we don’t know anyone who participated in the strike days of 2015 and felt they really put pressure on the government. The threat of a decree is also more present than ever. But the union leadership is not offering any solution to this problem, even though this issue comes up at every negotiation. Yet the solution is simple.
Acting throughout Quebec
In health and social services institutions, legal strikes have their raison d’être, but are not the “ultimate weapon” as in the private sector where they stop production (we cannot stop treating patients…). Pushing for an illegal strike would be suicide because of the fines provided by the law. On the other hand, we are many and numerous. If all the workers in the province’s health and social services institutions decided to block a street or a symbolic building (bank, MLA’s office, etc.) near their workplace at the same time – even if only for an hour – we could demonstrate our strength. In the present circumstances, it is feasible. All that is needed is the will to move in that direction.
The only way to put “public opinion” on “our side” is through the patient construction of a solid opposition to the CAQ.
Establishing a balance of power
The final argument of the FSSS negotiating committee is that it would be better to have a negotiated agreement than an order in council. Historically, this is not true. The highest wage increase we’ve had in 20 years was the 2005 order in council.
|April 1st 2003||2%|
|April 1st 2010 to March 31 2011||0,50%|
|April 1st 2011 to March 31 2012||0,75%|
|April 1st 2012 to March 31 2013||1%|
|April 1st 2013 to March 31 2014||1,75%|
|April 1st 2014 to March 31 2015||2%|
|April 1st 2015 to March 31 2016||LUMP SUM|
|April 1st 2016 to March 31 2017||1,50%|
|April 1st 2017 to March 31 2018||1,75%|
|April 1st 2018 to March 31 2019||2%|
|April 1st 2019 to March 31 2020||LUMP SUM|
Please note that a lump sum is a fixed amount (500$ for the entire year). There was a 0% wage increase in pay for those 2 years;.
For the barganinig committee, it is better to be reasonable to increase our chances that the government will “choose” us to negotiate. The argument is valid, but it does not take into account the fundamental element of any negotiation: the balance of power. Before negotiating, one must have respect, which is not the case at the moment.
To prevent the CAQ from doing what it wants, we must demonstrate our strength. To do so, we must mobilize. In order to mobilize, we need to make strong demands. The best way to kill mobilization is to mobilize to get a cheap agreement. By doing so, there is a better chance that workers will mobilize “against the unions”, rather than against the government.
We can already see the first signs of it right now. By lowering our demands before we have begun the fight, we are showing our weakness. Right now, we must do exactly the opposite!
When a government has a hard line, we too must harden our positions.
Let’s fight for what we want! It is this orientation that your union team will defend at the July 8 and 9 proceedings.
Bruno-Pierre Guillette, PSA and VP Info/MOB for SECHUM