The future of health care in Ontario: assembly-line private clinics, strip mall medicine, cash cow for doctors FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE MEDIA RELEASE February 10, 2012
TORONTO, ON - Tough talk by Ontario’s health minister on salary increases for the province’s 25,000 physicians and the creation of new private, assembly-line procedure and surgery clinics should be viewed with a “grain of salt and a lot of questions about the motives behind these clinics, who stands to benefit and the potential risks to the health of Ontarians,” says Michael Hurley the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU).
Racing to come out ahead of the February 15 release of a report reviewing public services’ cost-cutting, the health minister recently announced health service delivery changes that could include private birthing, knee and hip surgery and medical procedures clinics. The cost-cutting and massive re-design of health services is coming although over the last decade health care spending has shrunk as a percentage of total program spending, down from 46 per cent to 42 per cent while Ontario’s population increased. In the same period payments to physicians have increased by 88 per cent and drug costs doubled in the last 20 years.
Recently, during an Ottawa Citizen live broadcast session health minister Deb Matthews “is effusive about the convenience of private dialysis clinics operating in strip malls and assembly-line eye clinic operations,” says Hurley. “But we have - as I’m sure many Ontarians have - a lot of questions. Among them are; what’s the impact of moving the routine profitable procedures to clinics and leaving the complex surgeries to under-resourced public hospitals?”
In the current system, routine patient surgeries effectively subsidize costlier care for complex patients. Private clinics will skim the least complicated and low-cost patients but likely they will receive the same funding as hospitals that will treat the more complex, high-needs patients. Although clinics will, for now be prohibited from making profits, they will have ample opportunity to generate large revenues that can be used to "re-invest" as bonuses for doctors or the expansion of more private clinics.
“There is no doubt doctors stand to benefit from private clinics as the clinics become cash cows. Other parts of the health system will however be starved for resources under a new price-based funding model for services. Those most affected will be older Ontarians and children. They are the patients,” says Hurley “who the health minister has pegged as the 1 per cent consuming 34 per cent of the health care budget.”
Surgeries and procedures currently provided in Ontario’s public hospitals are highly regulated under an intense provincial oversight regime. Private, doctor-run clinics are self-regulating. Patient complaints are made to the independent college that polices doctors.
Minimizing potential risks to patient health under a private clinic model which are essentially self-regulated “is also a concern. We are preparing to fight this step into the past,” says Hurley.
For more information please contact:
Michael Hurley President OCHU/CUPE 416-884-0770
Stella Yeadon CUPE Communications 416-559-9300
Canada Health Act is “completely irrelevant”, says McGuinty advisor TORONTO, Ont. – Recent comments by Don Drummond, the $1500-a-day Bay St. banker hired by the Ontario Liberals to cut public service funding, that the Canada Health Act is "completely irrelevant" should give the Premier pause about who he's entrusted to protect universal health care," says Michael Hurley the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU).
While Drummond's latest musings on universal health care were made on CBC - The House a few days ago, Drummond has for years been a clear proponent of health care privatization, user fees and even imposing a tax on Ontario's sickest-generally, seniors and the poor. Last March, when the Liberals announced the commission to review public services that Drummond is heading, they were clear "the commission will not make recommendations that would increase taxes or lead to the privatization of health care or education."
But in a recent report to the C.D. Howe Institute, Drummond did just that, said Hurley. Drummond calls for "greater private sector involvement" in Ontario's health system through a "policy that encourages competition among providers."
"In other words," says Hurley, "let's expand corporate opportunities to profit from the public service of healthcare. And that's just the first chapter." In his appearance on The House, Drummond says: "at some point…you have to bring in some revenues…so there has
to be a second chapter."
If the Liberals follow Drummond's "re-design" for healthcare, the second chapter may well come in the form of user-fees, higher co-payments for drugs even for seniors receiving the Ontario Drug Benefit, and "sick taxes" charging patients at tax time for their usage
of health care.
These are all "reforms" that Drummond recommends in his C.D. Howe report, and in earlier reports for the Canadian Medical Association and TD Bank.
In 2004, the Ontario Liberals passed legislation called 'The Commitment to the Future of Medicare Act' reaffirming the commitment
of "the people of Ontario and their government," to the Canada Health Act. "It begs the question, are the McGuinty Liberals on the verge of breaking their promise to defend Medicare? Or are they going to distance themselves from Drummond's clear bias against universal health care?" Asks Hurley.
"As a private citizen, Mr. Drummond is entitled to his opinion that the Canada Health Act is irrelevant and that privatization is the solution to everything. That's what you get when you appoint a banker to develop public policy behind closed doors. However, he's
now on the government payroll. The Premier has legal responsibilities to guarantee universal and accessible healthcare to all Ontarians. If he follows Drummond's advice, the Premier will be in clear violation of those responsibilities and will cause irreparable harm to publicly delivered health care in Ontario," warned Hurley.
For more information:
Michael Hurley President, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE
Stella Yeadon CUPE Communications
$16,000 to $49,000 pay raises for Liberal caucus. Surely social assistance rates will also rise? November 13, 2011: Media Release
Toronto, Ont. – On Remembrance Day the Ontario Liberal government quietly announced pay raises of between $16,000 and $49,000 for 29 MPP who will become parliamentary assistants to a slimmed down Ontario cabinet of just 22 members.
“ By this bold signal that the austerity agenda stops at Ontario’s borders, the Liberal caucus sends a message of hope to the poorest in Ontario,” said Michael Hurley, President of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU). “ These increases of between 14 per cent and 42 per cent would make such an enormous difference if they were also applied to people receiving social assistance and disability benefits.”
The 29 parliamentary assistants will receive an additional $16,667 on top of an MPP’s salary of $116,000. The whip will receive an additional $21,000 and cabinet members an additional $49,000, also on a base salary of $116,000. Only 1 of 53 Liberal MPPs will not receive a substantial increase, making this an unprecedented announcement in its scope. Effectively, 98 per cent of the Liberal caucus has been reclassified and given a pay raise.
“People on social assistance cannot remember the time they last ate until they were full. The health of tens of thousands of children is being seriously compromised through ongoing malnourishment. It is time to raise the rates of assistance and disability.” Hurley said.
Social assistance paid a single person $663 a month in 1994. In December 2011 it will pay $599. With a room in a major Ontario city costing $400 a month, single social assistance recipients have $6.60 a day for all necessities of life. 474,000 women, children and men receive Ontario Works benefits and 397,000 receive Ontario disability benefits.
For more information, please contact:
President, OCHU/CUPE (416) 884-0770
Equal pay for Equal Work – Montfort Hospital doesn’t get it Management at Montfort hospital refuses to pay CUPE 4721 members a fair wage, compared to other Ontario hospital workers. Working without a contract for months now, the workers at Montfort are speaking outabout their frustration and unfair treatment.
HEAR WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY: (in French only)
CUPE 4721 represents almost 850 members who work as orderlies, RPNs, technologists and technicians, respiratory therapists, clerks, porters, dietary aides, as well as housekeeping, sterilization and trades, pharmacy technicians and physiotherapy assistants. They help patients every day, and now they need your help.
Tell hospital management it’s time for fairness. Tell them workers should have equal pay for equal work!
Director, Human Resources
Telephone 613-746-4621 ext.2209
Vice-President, Human Resources
Telephone (613) 746-4621 poste 2203
Bernard Leduc, MD, MBA
President & CEO
Telephone (613) 746-4621 poste 2001
Overcrowded hospitals, cutbacks to cleaning linked to infection outbreaks October 11, 2011
– Although medical experts are blaming hospital overcrowding (resulting from cuts to patient beds) for infection outbreaks – particularly outbreaks of antibiotic- resistant superbugs – the Ontario government plans to cut another 5,000 acute care beds province-wide. Currently, hospital bed occupancy is at record levels, over 97 per cent.
Studies show that healthcare-associated infections kill between 8,000 and 12,000 Canadians a year – 40 per cent of these deaths are in Ontario.
“Many of these deaths are preventable. Ontario should follow the lead of countries where hospital acquired infections have been significantly reduced by pro-active measures,” says Sharon Richer, the Vice-President of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
A mobile hospital room display will be set up for a media conference on Tuesday, October 11 at 11:00 a.m. Archdekin Recreation Centre, 292 Conestoga Drive, Brampton ON. Using the mobile exhibit hospital workers will demonstrate the effective and thorough cleaning practices required to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
A mobile hospital room display will be set up for a media conference on Wednesday, October 12 at 11:00 a.m. at the Elmbank Community Centre, 10 Rampart Rd, Etobicoke ON. Using the mobile exhibit hospital workers will demonstrate the effective and thorough cleaning practices required to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
A mobile hospital room display will be set up for a media conference on Thursday, October 13 at 11:00 a.m. at the Wingham Knights of Columbus Centre
99 Kerr Dr, Wingham ON. Using the mobile exhibit hospital workers will demonstrate the effective and thorough cleaning practices required to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
A mobile hospital room display will be set up for a media conference on Thursday, October 14 at 11:00 a.m. at West End Community Centre (Lions Lair Room 3) 21 Imperial Rd South, Guelph ON.Using the mobile exhibit hospital workers will demonstrate the effective and thorough cleaning practices required to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
OCHU/CUPE’s mobile hospital room tour will be visiting 15 communities across central and southern Ontario beginning October 11. OCHU/CUPE represents 35,000 hospital workers province-wide.
For more information, please contact:
Vice-President, OCHU/CUPE (705) 698-6668
CUPE Communications (416) 559-9300
Ailing European Bank Dexia Involved in Financing Windsor/Essex Parkway and P3 Hospital Deals in Toronto and Halton October 11, 2011
Toronto, Ont.- Dexia, a Belgian bank hit by funding worries and exposure to Eurozone loans is involved in underwriting long-term financing for the Windsor/Essex Parkway and 3 Ontario P3 hospitals. The Belgian and French governments took steps to dismantle and nationalize parts of the bank this weekend.
Dexia’s credit rating was downgraded Friday by Standard & Poor’s to “A-/A-2” because of challenges accessing funding and the need for more collateral.
“Dexia’s downgraded credit rating will mean higher borrowing costs for these projects. The Ontario government must clarify what the fate of Dexia will mean to the Windsor/Essex Parkway project and to the provincial treasury “ said Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE. “ Many of the banks involved in Ontario’s P3 projects are European and some may fail as the Eurozone’s economic crisis worsens. We believe that Ontario will be left to guarantee all financing costs in a scheme where the government committed that all risk would in fact be transferred to the private sector.”
In the United Kingdom the Treasury Select Committee of the House of Commons has released a report that found that P3 projects are “ an extremely inefficient “ way of financing public infrastructure. The Committee found that the cost of borrowing for a typical P3 project was double the cost of the government financing the project itself.
“ The Liberal government has many P3 projects underway. It’s time to end this method of infrastructure renewal. We can’t afford it and neither can our grandchildren, who will be saddled with these additional costs, “ Hurley said.
For further information:
Michael Hurley, President, OCHU 416-884-0770
12 C. difficile Cases at Kingston General Hospital Highlight Ongoing Systemic Problems Media Release: 9:00 p.m. August 16, 2011
The province of Ontario must require hospitals to report to the public all cases of hospital- acquired
infections when they arise, the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions asserts. “In the outbreaks in the Niagara Health System and at the Kingston General Hospital there were multiple cases of Clostridium difficile confirmed before the public was notified. The current standard for declaring an outbreak in Ontario is too high and the delays in declaring an outbreak mean that people cannot weigh the risk to themselves or a family member”, says OCHU president Michael Hurley.
“ Ontario needs an aggressive approach to hospital acquired infections, which will kill between 3,200 and 5,000 patients in Ontario hospitals in 2011. Jurisdictions like the Netherlands and Scotland are much more proactive. In those countries hospital bed occupancy rates have been pushed down; reporting requirements are much more stringent; more hospital cleaners have been hired and the contracting-out of hospital cleaning has been banned” Hurley says.
“ In Ontario our major focus has been on hand-washing. But there are studies that show that the alcohol gels in Ontario hospitals may not be effective at killing C. difficile in particular. Hand washing with soap and water is also necessary. In Niagara some clinical care areas did not have sinks”, says Hurley.
Between 1991 and 2003, a period when 15,000 hospital bed were cut in Ontario, the rate of patients contracting Clostridium difficile increased almost five-fold. Ontario has the fewest number of acute hospital beds to population of any developed economy in the world. Ontario’s hospital occupancy rate of 97.9% results in overcrowding, which was cited in the review of the outbreak in Burlington, at Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital, as a key culprit in the deaths of over 90 patients in that facility. “ Ontario’s bed occupancy rate needs to come down for us to deal effectively with hospital-acquired infections “ says Hurley.
The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions has waged a seven year campaign on hospital acquired infections and is sponsoring an international conference on Medical Errors and Hospital Acquired Infections in June, 2012.
For more information:
Michael Hurley, President , Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE 416-884-0770
Ontario health minister continues to ignore significant factors in superbug deaths For Immediate Release - July 15, 2011
TORONTO, Ont - At a Queen’s Park media conference today hospital staff urged Ontario’s health minister to follow through with funding to support the recommendations made by the expert team reviewing outbreaks of C. difficile linked to the deaths of 21 patients at Niagara Health System hospitals.
The report by the Public Health Ontario Infection Control Resource Team makes dozens of recommendations and proposes increased staffing for cleaning and infection control. The reports notes the challenges faced by overcrowded hospitals and proposes limits on patients sharing rooms and transfers of patients and equipment within the hospital. The report proposes a pro-active approach.
“But the Ontario health minister continues to focus on hand washing in her public comments and the CEO of the Niagara Health System has indicated that she is not sure money will be provided by the Ministry of Health & LTC for additional cleaning,” said Michael Hurley the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) at today’s media conference.
Hospital acquired infections like MRSA, VRE and C. difficile are the fourth leading cause of death in Ontario and kill between 3,200 and 5,000 hospital patients each year. Experts have estimated that one half of these deaths are preventable. Ontario spends $1 billion each year to provide care for patients who acquire these diseases in hospital. Ontario should be investing proactively as other jurisdictions have done to achieve similar drops in infection and death rates. Scotland, for example, has hired 1,000 hospital cleaners and has driven C. difficile infection rates down by 37 per cent.
Healthcare experts make a direct connection between overcrowding and superbug outbreaks. Ontario has the fewest number of hospital beds per capita of any province and operates at 97.9 per cent capacity. In fact Ontario has the lowest number of acute hospital beds per capita of any developed economy, except for Mexico.. The British Medical Association Scientific Committee reports that as hospital bed occupancy rates increase from under 85 per cent to over 90 per cent, the risk of transmission increases by an additional 10 per cent. Ontario’s bed occupancy level is much higher than 90%.
At today’s media conference a theatre set of a hospital room was erected on the lawn of Queen’s Park to demonstrate the cleaning involved following the discharge of a patient with C. difficile. Toronto is the latest stop in a 30 community tour to raise awareness about hospital acquired infections. In 2012, OCHU is sponsoring a conference on Medical Errors and Hospital Acquired Infections.
For more information, please contact:
Michael Hurley President, OCHU/CUPE (416) 884-0770
Louis Rodrigues First VP, OCHU/CUPE (613) 531-1319
Stella Yeadon CUPE Communications (416) 559-9300
No Vacancy: Ontario Health Coalition Finds Hospital Overcrowding at Untenable Levels
Toronto – A new report, “No Vacancy: Hospital Overcrowding in Ontario, Impact on Patient Safety and Access to Care” released today finds that Ontario has the fewest hospital beds per person of all provinces in Canada. The result is serious hospital overcrowding that puts patients at risk....read more
Ministry of Health shares responsibility for Niagara Hospital outbreak Ontario’s Ministry of Health shares responsibility for the outbreak of C. Difficile at the Niagara Regional Hospital, a union representing Ontario hospital staff charged today. “ An ongoing reduction in the numbers of hospital beds in Niagara and across Ontario has driven up bed occupancy and created the conditions for the transmission of hospital acquired infections “ says Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions. Hospital acquired infections are the fourth leading cause of death and kill between 3,500 and 5,000 people in Ontario hospitals each year. At least one half of these deaths are preventable.
“ If hospital overcrowding is combined with a systematic reduction in the numbers of hospital cleaners and a refusal to require hospitals to report deaths due to hospital acquired infections the ideal conditions are created for the spread of superbugs. The Ministry of Health has supervised the closure of 18,000 beds over the last 15 years. This has created an occupancy rate of 97%, which is dangerously high. It is the Ministry of Health which has supervised cuts to hospital cleaning budgets at a time when other jurisdictions, like the United Kingdom were hiring cleaners and deep-cleaning all of their hospitals. And it is the Ministry of Health that has not required deaths from hospital acquired infections to be publicly reported “ said Hurley.
“ The Ministry of Health emphasizes hand-washing. This is critical, but it is only one in a number of critical steps that must be taken to safeguard the public. The Ministry hasn’t encouraged any of the other protective measures. In Niagara, as in Burlington, once the deaths pile up, the Ministry sends in more cleaners. The public should expect the proactivity from the Ministry of Health that similar ministries in other countries have exhibited” says Hurley.
The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions has waged a seven year campaign around hospital acquired infections. Next week a theatre set of a hospital room visits Toronto, Hamilton, Niagara and London as part of a 30 community tour to highlight the epidemic of hospital acquired infections. The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions is hosting a conference on Medical Errors and Hospital Acquired Infections in the spring of 2012 in Toronto.
What is the plan?PCs and NDP must outline their policies
if regional health networks are scrapped
TORONTO, Ont. -Ontario’s opposition parties are both saying that if elected inOctober they will scrap the existing regional health agencies, known as Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs), but neither has detailed a concrete alternative to replace them in order to oversee health care provincially.
What both the Progressive Conservatives (PCs) and New Democrats (NDP) appear to be offering voters heading into the provincial election is “ a magic trick that would turn a sows ear into a silk purse through yet another round of health care restructuring. And years of turmoil in the health system is thelast thing Ontarians need,” says Michael Hurley the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
Under the previous PC government, which included the current leader of the PCs Tim Hudak, health care restructuring “proved disastrous for Ontario patients. Funding was cut, hospitals were closed and merged, and they introduced compulsory contracting out for home care services that’s resulted in sharply higher costs and an exploited home care workforce whose low wages give providers their profit margins on the contracts,” says Hurley.
In their recently released policy platform, all the NDP are saying is that they will scrap the LHINs and replace with them with “local decision-making”.
“Both parties need to come forward and say exactly what system they are proposing to replace the LHINs with,” says Hurley, particularly since a recent consultant’s report has proposed radical changes to replace the LHINs. This includes cutting staff at the Ministry of Health by 50 per cent, creating an executive committee of six regional super bosses to coordinate the system, and nixing the LHINs, Community Care Access Centres (CCACs), and existing hospitals and replacing them with dozens of integrated health organizations to provide hospital, home care, primary care, and other services
The PCs have already said that as part of their plan they would impose contract competition for support services in hospitals which would require a new bureaucracy to oversee contracts.
“While the Conservatives rail against the costs of the LHINs, their plan to force tendering for support services would drive up administration costs at the expense of front line care. Which is what’s happened in jurisdictions where compulsory tendering has been introduced: administration costs have risen as hospitals divert resources to a new and bloated bureaucracy. The bottom line is our hospital system which is the most efficient in Canada, would be much less sustainable under a PC plan,” says Hurley.
Ontario Regional Office
Hudak plan to tender support services will divert almost 10 per cent of hospital budgets from front line care to administration
For Immediate Release - June 3, 2011 TORONTO, Ont. – “Ontario’s hospital system will not be sustainable under a Progressive Conservative (PC) plan to impose contract competition for support services in the public sector,” says Michael Hurley, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) president.
In every jurisdiction where compulsory tendering has been introduced, administration costs have risen as hospitals divert resources to a new and bloated bureaucracy which oversees the tendering process. “The Conservatives rail against the costs of the LHINs, but their plan to force tendering for support services would drive up administration costs at the expense of front line care. In the United Kingdom, the National Health Service administrative costs have jumped from 5 per cent in the 1990’s to 14 per cent today as a result of contract tendering and privatization” says Hurley.
Ontario’s hospitals are already the most efficient in Canada, with the fewest number of beds and staff to population of any province. Ontario spends $250 less per citizen on hospital care than any other province. Support staff budgets have been cut consistently for the past twenty years.
The Conservatives’ plan would require public sector workers like support staff in hospital dietary and laundry departments—85 per cent of them women—to compete with multinational corporations for their own jobs. In most communities across Ontario, ravaged by free trade and mill and plant closures, the largest employer is now the hospital. “The Conservatives are proposing to replace as many as 50,000 modestly-paid, hospital support jobs with much lower paying ones. Across the public sector, the toll could be as high as 300,000. The economic impact on our communities will be enormous. There is something grotesque about a proposal to drive huge numbers of people into poverty to further enrich multinational corporations.”
Hospital-acquired infections kill 12,000 people in Canada each year. In British Columbia, after the province contracted out hospital cleaning, hospital-acquired infection rates increased by 40 per cent in the first year. “And they have remained at that level. Contractors skimped on cleaning products, diluting disinfectants to the point that they became ineffective. The low wages contractors pay cleaning staff lead to high staff turnover. This was the unintended consequence of the privatization of hospital support services,” says Hurley.
Collective agreements, covering nearly 65,000 hospital workers, saw wage settlements one-third lower than prevailing public sector settlements when negotiated. “It is not the wages of hospital support workers that are driving up heath care costs, but the wholly-privatized, for-profit parts of the system—profits to the corporations running long-term care and home care, P3 hospitals (30 per cent more expensive to operate), drugs and technology. The PC plan would take an axe to the wrong budget line, introduce a new corpulent level of bureaucracy, and badly hurt people and communities that are trying to survive,” says Hurley.
For more information, please contact:
Ontario Council of Hospital Unions of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (OCHU/CUPE)
Choice of biased bank executive to review health care highly suspect Puts Liberals on collision course with patients, hospital workers
For Immediate Release: March 31, 2011
TORONTO, Ont. – The choice of former bank executive Don Drummond, whose views “are clearly skewed to increased private delivery of health care, to review health spending is unacceptable and clearly indicates where the Liberal government is heading on this file after the October 2011 provincial election," says Michael Hurley, the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU), the hospital arm of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) which represents 35,000 hospital staff province-wide.
In May 2010, as a TD Bank executive, Drummond co-authored a report that not only promoted private sector involvement in health care delivery, but challenged the government to “open the door more widely to private sector involvement and capitalize on the huge economic potential…”
"Drummond’s premise, that health care spending is unsustainable does not stand up to scrutiny. Hospital cost increases, for example, have been flatlined, relative to gross domestic product since the creation of Medicare in Canada. It is the private delivery of health care, drugs, medical technologies and for-profit care – the elements for which Drummond is a champion, that are unsustainable and spiking health care spending.
"Private-public partnership (P3) hospitals – Ontario is building 24 – cost 30 per cent more to build and operate and are 30 per cent smaller than hospitals that are publicly-owned and operated. The cost overruns on the first four P3 hospitals in Ontario were $950,000,000 according to the provincial auditor general. We cannot afford more private sector involvement in the delivery of health care services," says Hurley.
Studies show that Ontario receives $250 less per citizen than any other province for its hospital services as a result of the inequities in the federal transfer system. A meta-analysis published several years ago in the Canadian Medical Journal showed higher death rates in hospitals and clinics run on a for-profit basis.
“We have the most efficient hospital system in Canada – the fewest beds and staff measured against population and the shortest lengths of stay,” says Hurley. This efficiency is threatened by privatization which will suck dollars that should be spent on care into profits.
At an emergency meeting of the OCHU executive in Kingston today, a motion was passed asking the Liberal government to rescind Drummond's appointment.
“Coy commitments from the Liberal government to public sector delivery, while appointing a leading advocate for health care privatization, are very disturbing. Hospital staff, represented by CUPE, will meet in April to discuss a vigorous campaign of resistance to privatization of the services we deliver," says Hurley.
For more information, please contact:
Michael Hurley President, OCHU/CUPE (416) 884-0770
Stella Yeadon CUPE Communications (416) 559-9300
Kingston General Hospital staff announce a major campaign to stop the contracting out of retail food services For release: 6:00 a.m. October 15, 2010
Kingston Ontario…The local union representing 1200 nursing, support and clerical staff at Kingston General Hospital is today announcing a major campaign to stop the contracting out of retail food services.
CUPE Local 1974 president Louis Rodrigues says “ retail food services makes a significant profit for KGH every year. There is no reason to contract-out this service. The hospital’s dietary department first won the bid to deliver the service and then the tendering process was reopened to other bidders. In the second round the in-house dietary service was not even allowed to make a presentation.”
Ontario Council of Hospital Unions president Michael Hurley is today “ calling on the Minister of Health to investigate the tendering of the contract for retail food services at Kingston General Hospital. The Hospital should be prevented from signing a contract while the Minister investigates this very peculiar bidding process.”
Mr. Rodrigues says “ that the campaign will involve a $100,000 advertising campaign and a series of information sessions and demonstrations. We will be asking the Kingston community why its flagship hospital doesn’t buy its produce and meats from local farmers and suppliers. Why does KGH want a multinational to produce food in a factory in Mississauga and ship it hundreds of kilometres up the 401?”
Under the CUPE collective agreement workers cannot be laid off in a contracting out. Mr. Rodrigues says “ this is not about our jobs, those are protected. This is about what public institutions do with taxpayers money. “
For information contact:
Louis Rodrigues, President, CUPE Local 1974: 613-531-1319
Michael Hurley, President, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions: 416-884-0770
The Public Sector: Searching for a Focus Sam Gindin and Michael Hurley As capitalism begins to emerge from the ‘Great Financial Crisis,’ there is good reason for working people to refrain from celebration. Though the roots of the crisis were in the private sector, it's clear that the bill will be primarily paid via the public sector – which is to say that the costs will be placed on the working class as both providers and recipients of social services. Moreover, although economic and political elites experienced a significant decline in credibility as a result of the crisis, popular movements – a few exceptions aside – remain on the defensive and are generally ill-prepared to respond. Most dangerously, as our weaknesses are exposed, and as pressures from business grow to ‘deal with the deficit,’ the government will likely harden its position and modest restraints will turn into more severe cutbacks.
And so at a time when people will need more public programs and supports, they will get less. In Ontario, the recent $200-million cut to the ‘special diet program,’ to help people on social assistance buy fresh fruits and vegetables and other medically necessary dietary supplements, is one especially disgraceful example of this, after spending billions bailing out auto companies and supporting the financial sector. And at a moment when unions in the private sector are reeling from the job losses resulting from restructuring and globalization, it is their public sector counterparts – now at the center of any hope for reviving the labour movement – that are under the gun.
The Challenge to Unions
The 2010 Ontario Budget of the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty – following a pattern set in Budgets at the Federal level and in Manitoba, Nova Scotia and British Columbia and now being generalized across the country – tries to trap and marginalize public sector workers in two particular ways. First, the government framed the issue to isolate these workers. It cynically set itself up as the defender of services, while suggesting that higher labour costs would be paid for through cutting services: if workers demand improved compensation, this would only prove that they didn't care about the public. The very name given to the legislation makes this intent clear enough: the ‘Public Sector Compensation Restraint and Protection of Public Services Act.’
Second, the Ontario government has attempted to create a wage freeze environment, that is, to orient workers and their unions to assume that wage and benefit gains are impossible. It has not done this by directly introducing legislation to open existing collective agreements or to directly ban bargaining gains. Instead, it imposed a two-year compensation freeze on non-unionized employees alongside stipulating that its ‘transfer partners’ (the various agencies and departments involved in bargaining with unions) would not be funded for any net compensation increases in any open or renewal collective agreements. Those employers would, of course, use that limit on funding to ‘reluctantly’ offer unionized workers only zero compensation packages.
For all the politics behind the focus on controlling wages without the Liberal government directly doing the dirty work, the approach they've taken is very likely linked to a 2007 Supreme Court decision. That ruling declared a law unconstitutional if “provisions of the legislation enacted by the government interfere with their [i.e. unions'] right to a process of collective bargaining with the employer.” The Supreme Court, however, closed its eyes to the substance of bargaining: “It is the collective bargaining process that is constitutionally protected, not the content of the actual provisions of the collective agreements.” This seems to endorse the hypocrisy of the Ontario government saying they have left bargaining intact, while supporting specific employers who argue they are bargaining in good faith even if the end result is pre-determined. [Health Services and Support – Facilities Subsector Bargaining Assn. v. British Columbia, SCR 391, June 8, 2007.]
In 2010, approximately 850 agreements covering 134,000 public sector workers open for negotiation in Ontario. Among the first agreements up are many covering small social service agencies, represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and numerous university collective agreements of CUPE. Last year's strikes at York University and city workers in Windsor and Toronto (all represented by CUPE) were difficult. In the new environment, strikes will be all the more tough-going. An April 2010 OPSEU settlement of 0% and 0% for 1,200 Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) employees with the right to strike may be suggestive of where OPSEU will be heading in sectors with the right to strike, including social services. At the municipal level (where employers can raise revenue through taxation) and in essential services workers (where unions have access to interest arbitration), the settlement outcomes may be different.
Wage freeze regimes, like the Ontario government is attempting to impose, block workers from sharing in the output gains from productivity increases. As well, they prevent addressing the incredible shift in income distribution in favour of the richest groups in society since the early 1980s. How might unions effectively respond without becoming public scapegoats?
Bargaining Wages: Limits on ‘Business-as-Usual’
The response from public sector union leaders – divided by politics, ideology, and bargaining territory but united in their caution – has been muted. Ontario Revenue Minister John Wilkinson has indicated that some kind of implicit accord has been reached with the union leadership already. Seven years of “unprecedented labour peace” between the Ontario government and public sector workers, he suggested, will see workers and their unions co-operate rather than fight with the government on the wage freezes. “I've been really surprised and kind of heartened ... by the fact that people who are paid by the taxpayers, have all kind of indicated they understand,” he said.
It may be tempting to recommend that unions who are too weak to resist wage cuts look to ‘trading-off’ wages for jobs. But if there is any lesson from the past, it is that when workers look to trade wages for jobs they generally end up with lower wages and fewer jobs. The reason for this is quite straightforward: it is one thing to fight for jobs and another to think they can be won out of weakness. If cutting public sector jobs is a government priority, they won't reverse themselves unless public sector unions and allies are strong enough to force them to.
In the past, the public sector union response might have been obvious: we won't let them erode our individual and collective democratic rights – at least we won't let it happen without a bitter fight. In today's context, the problem is that confronting individual employers one-by-one leaves public sector unions too fragmented to break the clampdown on wages and doesn't address the lack of community support – without which politicians and employers are left more confident in their hard line while union members tend to become more demoralized
A serious response would require a very significant mobilization – at a minimum creating new structures for bringing unions together. Unless this is done, militant rhetoric about defying the wage freeze is only posturing. It also risks leaving public sector union members more isolated, and therefore more vulnerable in the future, than before. But it also requires bringing the users of public services – the rest of the working class – to our side. And that may mean going beyond general support for social issues; it may necessitate bringing that commitment into collective bargaining.
Adjusting Union Strategy: Expanding Collective Bargaining
In the 1930s – the last time the working class went through comparable economic chaos – workers radically and creatively adjusted their strategy by developing sectoral-based industrial unions. A comparable strategic adjustment for unions today would lie in transforming the confrontation from one between the workers and the individual employer, to one between public sector workers and the province by consolidating bargaining strength and moving into a strike position together.
Although specific groups of workers may well have very legitimate wage and benefit claims and may win the occasional battle, the strategic issue today is not in fact wages. If jobs go, wages are secondary but if public sector workers lead a fight to protect and extend services, this not only addresses jobs but builds the community support for taking on future wage improvements.
The strategic shift for public sector unions might be posed as follows: the government, by removing wages and benefit improvements from negotiations, is trying to dramatically narrow collective bargaining. What if the unions responded by expanding collective bargaining? What if public sector unions refused to settle collective agreements unless the settlements address the level, quality and administration of the services being provided?
Unions have often taken positions on these issues, and a number of unions or locals have already moved toward greater community links. The Ontario Health Coalition and CUPE, the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), OPSEU, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) have over many years been holding forums and mobilizing at the community level against healthcare cutbacks. The CUPE Toronto Hydro local has revived its previously successful campaign against privatization and is now extending that campaign to engage communities on the potential environmental leadership role of a publically owned electrical utility. The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) has been holding forums on transit services. CUPE workers in the Toronto education sector have been mobilizing at the community level against school closures. At the level of central labour bodies, the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, working with groups outside the official trade union movement like the Workers' Action Center, held a successful series of community forums to win increases in the minimum wage. But going a step further and demonstrating the commitment of unions to improved public services by placing these issues on the bargaining table would represent a radical break in a number of ways.
First, the labour movement would have a focus – something it is sorely lacking now. Rather than each bargaining unit going through the motions of collective bargaining and further fragmenting workers with the message that there was nothing that could be done (or that it could have been worse), there would be a new basis of potential unity and possibilities. All unions would place the broader demands on the table.
Second, public sector unions would be leading the fight to preserve social services. Rather than letting the government and business isolate public sector workers as a cost that limits funds for public services, we'd be positioned to expose and clarify where the real problems lie. And by moving from progressive rhetoric to committed social action, there would be a basis to build the alliances that are fundamental to effecting change.
Third, the relationship between unions and their members would be changed. For such a perspective to succeed, unions would first have to win their own members over. This means a real emphasis on internal education; the widest discussion with members on tactics and risks; and developing confident organizers to engage the community. The intense mobilization implied by this would, in other words, mean bringing union members into a new kind of class politics and a more substantive union democracy.
Fourth, union structures would have to be transformed. Alongside any commitment to transform the content of union educational and democratic spaces, there would also have to be a reorganization of the technical supports that unions provide. Research and education departments would, for example, have to place relatively greater emphasis on the content of budgets and how expanded demands might be paid for; on the impact of the commercialization of public sector management on not just the level but the quality of services; and on alternative forms of management and delivery more sensitive to community needs.
Fifth, tactical creativity would be encouraged. As important as it is to prepare better policies and plans for the public sector, this will not be enough. There is an overwhelming need for public sector unions to develop new creative workplace tactics. These need to be coordinated so that union and progressive issues are put on the agenda in a way that the governments cannot ignore, while also contributing to building more support for union and socialist positions amongst other working people.
One such example is the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) offering to continue to deliver pension and social assistance checks even if they go on strike. That action blocked the government from using the elderly and the poor as pawns against the union and highlighted the class dimensions of the strike – CUPW was fighting the employer and a postal system biased to corporations, not the general public.
Another example occurred when the government tightened unemployment insurance rules to cut more people off. The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), which represented the workers administrating the program, prepared pamphlets for unemployed workers on how to answer the questions so they would not unfairly lose their needed income. The union was using its knowledge and skills to show class solidarity and prevented its members from being pitted against other workers.
We need to learn about other such actions or invent new ones and build them into an overall united labour strategy – such as a week of actions across unions or weekly actions spread over time. Some possibilities inspired by the CUPW and PSAC actions might include:
* Transit workers declaring periodic free transit days when they don't collect fares in order to highlight transit as a basic element of universal access to our city.
* Teachers and workers in the education sector fighting school closures by having a city-wide teach-in – during regular class hours and in lieu of a normal strike – to discuss schools as public spaces and alternatives uses for the facilities.
* Hospital workers coming in on a given day for a work-in to highlight staff shortages, and long-term care workers doing the same to demand 3.5 hours of care standards for long term care residents.
* Social workers organizing a teach-in with welfare recipients to discuss why they are put into positions of mutual frustration and what might be done about providing betters services and as part of this, more rewarding jobs).
What Next Steps for Public Sector Unions?
A starting point to get this on the agenda is to begin talking about it in workplaces, locals, unions, at labour councils, and at the OFL and CLC. Public sector unions and leaders need to ask ourselves whether we have a direction that is in fact taking us anywhere and if not, what – given the recent failures in protecting public sector services and workers – new alternatives might be.
Putting our local executives in motion could follow, with an emphasis on using (or reviving) union structures to spread the discussion among the wider membership, develop networks across locals, get this on the agenda of the larger labour movement, reflect on how to more successfully reach the public, and strategize over how to disrupt the goods and services public sector workers produce in a way that advances our collective cause.
These committees would need support. Some of this could be done internally. In other cases, public forums could be held across locals and unions to teach ourselves more about the public sector. This might include workshops on how far the cutbacks have gone elsewhere (so we see what may be coming); on how workers have resisted in other countries (to be inspired and get ideas); on the details of the Ontario and City budgets (so we can analyze and discuss them properly); on larger questions about the potentials and limits of financing public services in a capitalist society.
At the same time, the various groups affected by cutbacks and ignored needs could organize to further the links among themselves as well as develop contacts with the labour committees. More ambitiously, at some point neighbourhood committees might be organized to discuss community services, infrastructure, transportation, the expectations of a democratized public sector, and many other issues.
All this should not be restricted to public sector workers and community groups. Private sector workers have an interest not just in regards to union solidarity and not even just because social services are becoming more important as the door is closing to collective bargaining gains. It is also a question of private sector jobs and future security. If – as seems increasingly the case – the private sector provides little hope in the short term for decent working class jobs, then the intervention of a more credible and democratic public sector becomes all the more important.
Why, for example, could not all the plant closures in the auto industry be taken under the wing of a government agency committed to converting the valuable tools, equipment, and worker skills into socially useful production? The environmental challenge adds another dimension to such possibilities, since it means that everything – factories and machines, offices and equipment, homes and appliances, transportation and the entire infrastructure – will have to be adapted or converted through this century. An attack on the public sector that goes unchallenged closes off any such possibilities and leaves all of us ever more dependent on the private sector and its ‘solutions.’
Union Renewal Requires New Alliances
The greatest current danger is that all of us as workers and unionists keep lowering our expectations of what kind of society is possible – and then lowering them some more. There is a desperate need to rethink where we are at and to transform what is a looming disaster into a capacity for renewal. There is a need to develop a new response. It will be risky and difficult, but there is no longer any denying that it is essential.
One way or the other, this will involve workers seeing themselves as not ‘just workers’ but agents with the potential capacities to shape society and affect their lives. In particular, workers are part of a broader class that goes beyond public versus private unions, organized versus unorganized, employed versus unemployed and includes the poor. It is this relationship that lays the basis for effective alliances, and what it now concretely poses is rethinking how workers approach collective bargaining, especially at this moment and in the public sector.
One such example, among the several of new community-union alliances to forge a new working class politics, is the Toronto Workers' Assembly. This needs to evolve into a space where activists can talk about such challenges and come to some agreement on developing concrete responses. •
Sam Gindin is the Visiting Packer Chair in Social Justice at York University, Toronto.
Michael Hurley is President of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and Vice-President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Ontario.
If readers have other examples of innovative public sector bargaining tactics, deployed or just ideas, or want to participate in discussions in the Toronto or Ottawa areas, please contact us at labour_at_workersassembly.ca
Privatization of hospital clinical services is possible, Ministry of Health discloses to Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal For immediate release: April 20, 2010
Thunder Bay, Ontario…Predictions that setting prices and tendering for the provision of hospital clinical services would lead to privatization of those services were reinforced by the Ministry of Health on Monday. A Ministry of Health spokesperson, in an email to the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Herald stated that the government is “ not considering outsourcing or privatization “ and that any change in that position “ would only be undertaken with consultation with the field and that implementation would be phased in to protect hospitals and the public from service disruption. “
OCHU President Michael Hurley, told a convention of hospital union leaders in Thunder Bay this morning that “ we are grateful for the Ministry being frank with the media about their intentions. The commercialization of hospital clinical services will lead inevitably to the privatization of those services. That is what happened in the United Kingdom where a private hospital system is flourishing. In British Columbia the Ministry of Health has announced that private providers will compete to deliver hospital clinical services.”
“ Because private delivery of healthcare is more expensive, there was an enormous increase in spending on the British Healthcare system to finance the move to patient-based funding. In addition, there were widespread closures of smaller community hospitals. These outcomes are unaffordable and unacceptable” Hurley told delegates.
Delegates to the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions unanimously adopted a battle plan Monday to fight the Liberals’ patient-based funding model with an escalating campaign in the lead-up to the provincial election.
For information contact: Michael Hurley, President, OCHU: 416-884-0770
Hospital staff meet to fight Liberal clinical services privatization which threatens rural and northern hospitals For release: 6:00 a.m. April 19, 2010
Thunder Bay Ontario… 200 representatives from 65 Ontario hospital corporations represented by CUPE meet in Thunder Bay from Monday through Wednesday. On their agenda is the plan announced in the Throne Speech to set prices for hospital clinical services and tender those services to the lowest bidder.
Ontario Council of Hospital Unions president Michael Hurley will tell delegates this morning that “ this scheme, when introduced in Britain, encouraged a private hospital system to flourish. After it was introduced in the United Kingdom, there followed widespread closures of small community hospitals, which could not compete to deliver services. And public hospitals went bankrupt as they lost bids to deliver clinical services. “
“ The Liberal government reassures the public that privatization of clinical services will not result from their plan, as happened in Britain, but last week the British Columbia Minister of Health, when introducing an identical proposal, said that the private sector will deliver 20% of the clinical services in this new market “ Hurley will argue. “ After the next provincial election the government will open up hospital services in Ontario to private sector competition “.
“ Northern, rural and small community hospitals are seriously threatened by this plan “ Hurley will warn OCHU delegates. “ Clinical services will be sucked out of small town Ontario and moved to large urban centres. Communities will lose their hospitals on a scale we have not seen since the 1990’s. “
“ There is no question that our members will work with their communities to defend their hospitals and our Medicare system from privatization. This campaign will ramp up as we approach the 2011 election “ Hurley will conclude.
For information contact: Michael Hurley, President, OCHU: 416-884-0770
Ontario Throne Speech Ontario government plan for hospitals to compete for patients a ‘lose-lose’ failure in Britain—says major study
For Immediate Release March 8, 2010
TORONTO, Ont. – The signal in today’s Throne Speech that the Ontario Liberals intend to proceed on a model where hospitals compete for patients and funding—being called a ‘lose-lose’ policy in Britain by a major report on market-based health reforms there—is not good news for Ontarians, says the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU).
The Ontario Liberal plan to have Ontario hospitals compete for patients based on who can provide care and surgeries more cheaply is a retread of the market-based health care reforms introduced over eight years ago in Britain. Those reforms, concludes Civitas—a respected policy think tank in a report released on March 1, 2010—are increasing costs, providing few benefits, and are fueling debt in the National Health Service (NHS).
OCHU president Michael Hurley says “the Ontario Liberals would be well advised to back away from these types market-based reforms that are failing in Britain.
Civitas report concludes that, ‘for now, the available evidence indicates that the NHS may have found itself in a lose-lose situation—taking on the extra costs of competition without reaping the benefits.’ “Competition is not working for patients in Britain. Why would we want to experiment with it here?” Asks Hurley.
In addition to providing health care based on competition and consumer pricing, the Liberal plan would also result in some procedures being cut from local hospitals. Patients in smaller communities would lose local access to some services and have to travel outside their area to access health care, says OCHU president Michael Hurley.
“From what we know about the failure of these types of health care reforms, Ontarians should be very concerned about the Liberals direction on health care,” says Hurley, who also points out “that Ontarians are not asking for these reforms and have never been consulted on the changes.”
Liberal MPPs—particularly those from rural and northern communities—may find that the next 18 months heading into the provincial election “is more unsettling than they had anticipated,” says Hurley. “Hospital, and other health care workers represented by OCHU, are not supportive of the reforms and will be aggressively opposing them. Unfortunately, this government appears to be on a collision course with hospital staff who care passionately about the quality of care and services.
Hurley points out that Ontario has the most efficient hospital system in Canada based on length of stay, staff per patient and beds to population, despite federal underfunding relative to other provinces. “Hospital workers will defend that service because we love it,” says Hurley.
For more information, contact:
Michael Hurley President, OCHU 416-884-0770