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Hospital staff protest ‘disrespectful’ pandemic pay inequity

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Cathy Dobson

Ultrasound technician Maryann Anderson has had regular contact with potential COVID-19 patients at Bluewater Health yet isn’t eligible for pandemic pay given other front-line workers, she says.

“In a really stressful situation, it adds more stress and definitely increases friction between co-workers,” said Anderson.

“We don’t get recognized as front-line workers but we are at just as much risk as others that we work with.

“It’s ignorant,” she said. “It’s disrespectful.”

More than 325 Bluewater Health employees with OPSEU Local 145 are demanding the Ford government ante up the $4-per-hour pandemic premium paid other health-care staff.

Nurses, housekeepers and security, for instance, are getting pandemic pay, but a long list of others aren’t, including physiotherapists, social workers and pharmacists, said June Weiss, a registered pharmacy technician at Bluewater Health and Local 145 vice-president.

“Staff are frustrated. They just want to be recognized,” Weiss said during a noon hour rally outside the Sarnia hospital Monday.

Simultaneous protests were held at about 20 Ontario hospitals demanding pandemic pay for dozens of health-care professions.

In a series of announcements, the Ontario government has expanded the list of workers eligible for the $4-an-hour pay hike.

Some union members, including respiratory therapists and biomedical technologists, have been added but make up only about 5% of Local 145, Weiss said.

“Our feeling is that it should be everyone. We all have patient contact.”

Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott have not explained why, except to say there’s no more money available, Weiss said.

The list doesn’t make sense, said Angela McKay, an ultrasound tech at the rally.

“We are doing diagnostics for COVID-19 and receiving no premium, but office clerks with no patient contact are getting the premium. It’s incongruent.”

Weiss doesn’t blame hospital management that, she said, has requested clarification on the eligible list several times.

“For the hospital, it’s a nightmare. It’s a nightmare for all of us,” she said. “And I get that.”

The rally was also held to oppose Bill 195, legislation that could be passed this week to extend emergency regulations until next July.

The legislation would give employers like Bluewater Health the ability to continue cancelling vacations, change shifts and redeploy staff without notice, said Weiss.

“When all of this took place in the spring, most people were willing to do whatever they had to do. But if there’s no emergency, then why do they need the ability to totally override a collective agreement?” she asked.

“We don’t want emergency regulations to be extended if there is no emergency.”

Monday’s rally was the second held by health-care workers demanding pandemic premiums in Sarnia. The first was June 10, followed by a protest at Queen’s Park.

“We’ve done the rallies and Twitter storms,” said Anderson. “But they don’t seem to have any impact.

“It feels like the government is telling us who is valued and who isn’t valued.”



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