I want to send a big shout out to Yukon workers who have carried us tirelessly through 7 months of COVID-19 upheaval. Yukoners from all walks of life were suddenly deemed essential workers. Some of our most vulnerable population; casual workers, those with no paid sick leave, single parents, those who are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet were suddenly thrust into situations they had never even dreamed of. A few employers stepped up immediately and did the right thing, paid sick leave, alternate working arrangements and flexible hours. Others, not so much.
In mid-March YEU tried to be proactive, proposing a Letter of Understanding (LOU) to all 20 of the employers in our bargaining units. From the smallest employer with 3 members to the largest with close to 4500, they all received the same letter. In that LOU we asked for Quarantine leave with pay, even though in some collective agreements the word quarantine is included in existing sick leave language. Other LOU provisions dealt with potential closures, telework and specific Health and Safety language around pandemic-specific Personal Protective Equipment. Other than a few employers who voluntarily implemented some of these measures, we are still fighting every day for the same damned things.
“The original intent around quarantine leave was for TB and polio – the collective agreement contemplated individual situations. This is a pandemic and is a whole new ballgame. It should mean everyone is treated equally on the matter of quarantine leave. The employer’s position is ludicrous, petty and mean-spirited.”
So, what do we do now? How do Yukon workers gain the right to take COVID-related leave during a global pandemic without succumbing to punitive, ad-hoc leave policies? We fight. The union and its members have to keep doing what we always do; we fight for all workers, all Yukoners.
Maybe we start by shining a bright, shaming light on employers whose half-baked policies and lack of leadership have created two tiered workplaces.
We’ll fight for workers borrowing vacation leave from next year to pick their kids up from a daycare with reduced hours, and for the parallel workforce whose leave has been preserved while working from home. We will certainly call out employers who have taken advantage of this pandemic to ignore negotiated contracts and get around their legal and moral obligations to their workers. We intend to publicly OUT any Yukon employers who have willfully disregarded collective agreements, leveraging this period of confusion and tiptoing around bargained collective agreements to support blatant nepotism and favoritism.
Our team is busy filing grievances of every kind to defend workers’ rights, and we have no plans to let up. We are poised to file unfair bargaining complaints with the Canadian Industrial Relations Board to halt employer interference in the union’s ability to represent its members.
Of course, we are dealing with the big guns – entrenched, well-resourced employers like YG and the Yukon Hospital Corporation. They are counting on the probability that it could take years for some of these grievances to be heard – callous exploitation of an overwhelmed system.
We have worked these grievances through all the usual channels, and we’ve gotten NOWHERE, and we think that’s by intent. When the very people positioned to command change stonewall and evade our efforts, we know we’re in for a fight.
We will continue to pursue the grievance option but it’s time for action: public shaming of the politicians and bureaucrats who are sitting safely behind closed doors. They’re making asinine decisions that affect not only our members but all Yukoners while they ignore calls for a just policy on non-punitive COVID leave. We need people from all walks of life to write letters, to be out in the streets demanding what they should be entitled to.
Over the coming months we will be engaging as many allies as we can, unionized or not, public, private, and non-profit sector allies who share our belief that this is about the health and well-being of all Yukoners.
Steve Geick, President
Yukon Employees' Union