Millroy: A Matter Of Safety


Somehow I don’t see front line health care workers getting all that much support in their fight with the provincial government over Bill 195, the Re-opening Ontario Act (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) which brings to an end the declared State of Emergency in Ontario

“This is about an abuse of power,” Don Bellerose, CUPE’s Indigenous representative, was quoted as saying in a story in The Sault Star as the health-care workers protested at Sault MPP Ross Romano’s office,.“This is not about being flexible. It is allowing employers to violate our collective agreements and redeploy employees, change shifts, cancel or refuse entitled vacation.”

I don’t see it as an abuse of power. I see it as doing what is necessary.

The State of Emergency Act was temporary. This Act replaces it, containing most of the provisions that were in the Emergency Act.

The unions seem to believe that the emergency is over because there are no longer outbreaks in long-term-care homes.

They don’t seem to grasp that although this may be the case at the moment, there is still a pandemic out there and the fight against it has to be continued.

Just as I want the border between Canada and the U.S. to remain closed, so do I want all the precautions launched under the Emergency Act to remain in place under the new Act.

It is, as far as I am concerned, a matter of safety.

This, of course, is disputed by the unions. They see it as just handing power to the employers.

One of their main gripes is that personal support workers are not allowed to work in more than one long-term-care home. They see this as the workers being held hostage.

“While that may have been necessary during an outbreak, those outbreaks in long-term-care- homes are now over and PSW’s should be allowed to work in more than one part-time position,” The Star’s story said.

Michael Hurley, president of CUPE and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, said the basic rights of health care workers are violated under the act. He said the bill can result in single-handed decisions by employers to change shifts, vacations and redeploy workers, and there is already evidence that this has taken place.

In one case, he said, cleaning staff at a hospital were transferred from a day to evening shift but the union was able to push back those actions.

“There are hundreds of examples in hospitals and long-term care facilities and congregate-living environments where there is no COVID so there is no emergency,” he said. “You can understand the need for changes if there is an outbreak, but that’s not the case.”

I disagree. I don’t think you wait for another emergency to act You act now to possibly avoid another emergency.

I also don’t believe that at this time employees should be allowed to move freely among the homes in which our most vulnerable reside.

I doubt residents of these homes would welcome this free movement and I doubt all the employees would either.

The unionized health care workers accuse the Ontario government of taking away the fundamental rights they fought for in their collective agreements.

I see it as just imposing restrictions required in the fight against a killer virus.

I give full marks to these health-care workers, who are represented by Unifor, CUPE, OPSEU and the Ontario Council of Hospitals/CUPE. After all they have been there for us every step of the way. Sixteen health-care workers have died from Covid-19 from a total of 6,700 cases, as of this writing.

But I am afraid they are misguided in their quest to have the government rescind Bill 195.
It is much too early in the fight against the virus to do that.

Back in April, before the border between our countries was closed, hospitals in the Sault and Windsor adopted new policies banning employees from working on both sides of the border.
The move was prompted by a massive surge in Covid-19 cases in Michigan.

Michigan had more than 15,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of April 6, surpassing the total number of cases in Canada at the time. At least 617 people had died,, nearly triple the 233 deaths in Canada.

According to a story in The Globe and Mail at the time, Windsor Regional Hospital had 57 staff members, including critical care and emergency nurses and doctors, working in its hospital as well as ones in Detroit. Told to choose one institution, 35 decided to work exclusively in Windsor.

Sault Area Hospital President and CEO Wendy Hansson said its 15 employees who worked on both sides of the border were told to choose one institution at which to remain. Most decided to remain working in Canada.

Now I realize in regard to the situation in Ontario that our health-care institutions are not facing the drastic rise in Covid-19 cases faced by those in Michigan back when the hospitals put their policies in place, but I still think there are enough similarities to provide a comparison.

We have been very lucky in the Sault and as I have said in several columns, let’s keep it that way.

And it should be remembered that Bill 195 covers the entire province, the hot spots for the virus being in Southern and Eastern Ontario.

Taking this into consideration, I can well imagine that support for the unions would be even less there than it would be up here.

I say to the government of Ontario, stick to your guns until we know for sure this thing is under control.