Health care support workers petition for liveable wage

May 15, 2024.

When contract negotiations broke down between CUPE health care support workers and Health PEI on April 10, union reps and workers voiced their frustration outside the PEI legislature and have since started a petition.

“The CUPE Health Negotiation Team created the petition to bring awareness to the PEI government through signatures of support for CUPE Support Service Workers,” said Local 1779 president Chris Lewis.

“Workers are struggling to maintain the basic necessities of life. Many hold second jobs to make ends meet, or work short in areas, causing workload stresses to workers and their families. We are really just trying to send government the message that the public stands behind what we are fighting for.” It is not a new message to government, Mr Lewis said, the four CUPE Health Locals 805, 1051, 1778 and 1779, representing 1,300 workers, met with Premier Dennis King and Health Minister Mark McLane in June 2023.

At the time the politicians told union reps their concerns over low wages would be addressed at the bargaining table. That didn’t happen, Mr Lewis said. “The offer wasn’t enough to address inflation for our workers,” he added.

The locals represent workers in laundry, dietary, maintenance, maintenance trades and housekeeping roles. Also under the umbrella are ward clerks and sterile technicians. They work in public long-term care homes, hospitals, addiction treatment centres and public health offices. “Everyone is important within a facility,” he said. “The majority of our workers are the lowest paid in the system.”

There is no official count of signatures as yet. Mr Lewis said the four locals have been circulating the petition across the province. “Anyone approached has been quite supportive,” he said. Mr Lewis has worked maintenance at Kings County Memorial Hospital for 24 years and has seen the issues of the wage gap and burnout a few years prior to the pandemic.

He said the fact that wage hikes are doled out in percentages puts things on an uneven keel.“After awhile the higher earners will get ahead a little more, and the ones making the least amount don’t make many gains,” he said. When people can’t make ends meet they have to move on to survive.“There are a lot of vacancies and people leaving the system, especially in our groups because a lot of people are finding it tough,” he said. This makes things hard for those still in the workforce.

“People are working overtime just to keep things going, and people get tired. It hurts a lot of things like your family life and your own health too if you get a little burnt out,” Mr Lewis said. It has been over a month since that gathering at the legislature where the premier said they wanted to get back to the table, but nothing has changed.

Currently they are in conciliation with Health PEI which means both sides communicate through an independent moderator. The premier’s office, the Department of Health and Wellness and Health PEI didn’t respond to questions by press time. The collective agreement the two sides are bargaining was due to be updated in March of 2023.