Convention 1998: Looking ahead

The Report: July / August 1998 vol.19 num.1

More than 250 delegates packed HSAs 27th Annual Convention May28-30, making it the largest on record and demonstrating the continued growth of theunion.

Many were attending for the first time, representing workers in thehealth and social service sectors, and reflecting the unions successful organizingefforts.

"From the new cancer centre in Kelowna to transition houses, fromdiagnostic and treatment centres to home support, we are continuing to grow as unorganizedworkers choose HSA to represent them," said President Cindy Stewart in her welcomingaddress.

The convention dealt with a host of resolutions including continuedsupport for the annual "Run for the Cure"; access to screening and diagnosticmammography; the effects of on-call on workers health; and an historic newconstitution (to be sent to members in the September issue of The Report). Delegates werealso apprised of the current bargaining situation in which health care employers areseeking major concessions in wages, benefits and job classifications.

Stewart warned that the employers aim is to "drive wages andbenefits down to the lowest common denominator." She reminded delegates that theprovincial government is the ultimate paymaster and declared that the wage formula of"zero, zero and two with cutbacks to benefits and conditions is just not acceptable.

"No one likes to talk strike, but there are times when strike isthe only language thats understood," she stated.

Wages, classifications, job security and provincial seniority are keypriorities at the bargaining table, Executive Director of Labour Relations Rick Lampshiretold the convention.

"There appears to be a concerted effort to gut our contract,"Lampshire said. "Your support at this time is crucial," he stressed, whileadvising delegates to remember that negotiations were still in the early stages.

Members took a key step in reworking the way they vote on resolutions.In recent years HSA conventions featured a "direct" voting system in whichresolutions were introduced by the Resolutions Committee and seconded by a delegate. Afterstrong debate, delegates voted to return to a system whereby the delegates vote on therecommendations of the Resolutions Committee.

The new process got a workout in a subsequent debate on the resolutionregarding District Representatives elected for each Regional Health Board and CommunityHealth Council, positions introduced last year in the wake of health care restructuring.The resolution, a reaffirmation of a motion passed at the 1997 convention, allowed theDistrict Representatives automatic delegate status to convention, and stipulated that suchdelegates be from the health sector.

Delegates sent the resolution back to committee with instructions tostrike the reference to health sector and expand eligibility for District Representativesto all HSA members. A further referral deleted the automatic delegate status to conventionand instructed the union to further clarify the role and expectations of the DistrictRepresentative positions.

Guest speaker and new Health Minister Penny Priddy made a commitment toinvestigate the loss of screening mammography at acute care facilities and its replacementby private, for-profit services. A key resolution committed the union to "lobby theMinistry of Health to reinstate screening mammography as a procedure to be available atpublicly funded union facilities."

Another resolution noted that the provincial governments reformof health care has moved services out of acute care facilities without ensuring thatproper community-based services are in place. It called on the government to set up acomprehensive system of public home support serviced by qualified unionized workers.Delegates also adopted a resolution urging Victoria to ensure Regional Health Boards andCommunity Health Councils "use publicly funded union health care services."

Other adopted resolutions centred on transition agreements for membersaffected by restructuring in the Ministry of Children and Families. HSA is negotiating atransition agreement to protect members jobs as services move to the health sector.One resolution called on HSA to "strongly oppose a requirement for a furtherprobation period when discussing the need for a transition agreement." Anotherstipulated that HSA chapters be informed "prior to HSA negotiating transitionagreements."

In her keynote address, Cindy Stewart noted the confusion surroundinghealth care reform that sometimes makes members "feel weve been plopped rightinto the middle of some Dilbert cartoon." But she expressed confidence the union andits staff will deal with the issues surrounding reform and collective bargaining.

She praised the union for its role in successfully delaying theschedule of reforms within the Ministry of Children and Families by working in tandem withother groups such as parents - calling it "a clear example of the effects thatconcerted and collective action can have."

A round of applause greeted Stewarts acknowledgement thatshed just completed one full year as HSAs first full-time president."Even though I have served in this role for four years and now five, I continue togrow and learn ... it continues to be a role in which Im tremendously honoured toserve."

HSA members are continuing in record numbers to sign up for laboureducation courses such as those offered through the Canadian Labour CongressHarrison Winter School and the Summer School for Union Women, as well as attending HSAmeetings, Stewart observed. "Even with all the uncertainty and the challenges of thepast year, were doing something right when we see such enthusiasm and interest.

"I know that we are truly blessed with our people resources. Bothour staff and our members, you are second to none," Stewart declared.

"I know you feel as I do. It is an honour and a privilege torepresent the members of HSA."