New Contract Beats Up on Ontario Nurses

On 3 June 2011, an arbitration panel handed down the new contract for the majority of Ontario hospital nurses. The panel was set up when negotiations between the Ontario Hospital Association and the union, the Ontario Nurses’ Association broke down. This is a pretty routine procedure when the union contract comes up for renewal, because in Ontario, nurses are considered “essential workers” and don’t have the right to strike. I’m fairly sure this wouldn’t interest many or even most of my readers — even nurses — except for a obnoxious new contract clause, buried deep in the arbitration award:

Effective April 1, 2011, no sick pay benefit is payable under HOODIP for the first fifteen (15) hours of absence for the sixth (6th) and subsequent period(s) of absence in the same fiscal year (April 1st through March 31st).

English translation: if you have six or more absences because of illness (as opposed to days, it must be noted), your employer will punish you for being sick by docking you fifteen hours of sick pay for each absence.

It is true that nurses have among the highest absentee rate among any employee group, and this clause is an attempt to remediate the situation. It is also true that high absenteeism is for reasons unique to nursing. These are the smartly dressed white elephants you see standing in the corner that the hospitals and the union both ignore: we’re exposed to infectious disease, high stress levels, poor morale and horrendous working conditions. We all know about it, and nothing is ever done but pass the blame to nurses. I can’t see how punishing nurses for factors out of their control is even remotely helpful. It’s a little like starving a child, then beating her when she takes a bite of cake.

Even aside from these generic issues, one can easily see circumstances where the heartlessness of this clause will affect individual nurses. Supposing you had an illness which required specialized treatment over a period of time, such as chemotherapy, which required you to take an occasional sick day. According to the union and the hospitals, too bad for you. We are now, they are saying, going to flog you financially for contracting cancer.

It’s disgusting.

The union will probably say, “Well, it was an arbitrator’s award, it was out of our hands.” This only partly true, at best. The arbitration panel doesn’t pick contract language out of thin air. Both the hospitals and the union make submissions in the arbitration process based on their bargaining positions. Clearly, this little piece of horizontal violence was on the table beforehand. How vigorously did the union contested the hospital’s position on this at negotiations? Who knows. I respectfully suggest, however, that ONA put this clause at the top of its list when new negotiations start in a couple of years.

Unfortunately, ONA has calculated, probably correctly, that the pushback from front line nurses over this clause will be minimal. We can do very little about it, and in any case, there is a huge disconnect between front line nurses and the union leadership — which you would think would be a cause of concern. In its news release, all ONA could offer was some anodyne mush from ONA’s president, Linda Haslam-Stroud. The bash-the-nurse clause was mentioned not at all. “The agreement,” said Haslam-Stroud, “addresses the priority issues of the front-line registered nurses and allied health professionals – the backbone of health care.”

Uh, huh. How about working with the hospitals to fix some of the root causes of absenteeism, instead of tacitly supporting a policy which punishes them?

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  1. #1 by Jenn Jilks on Thursday 23 June 2011 - 1205

    What else causes illness, but being near sick people, or having stress in your job? You guys are the most at risk. Remember when SARS hit.

    Teachers have the same issue: on your feet all day, lots of sick kids = lots of germs.
    Teachers in bigger bargaining groups have long-term disability payments that are through the roof. I used to pay $90/mos for that honour. http://www.ocetf.ca/long-term-disabilityservices/overview.aspx
    They did introduce wellness initiatives, with nurse counsellors who helped us go back to work sooner, feeling better, perhaps half-time teaching. What an awful clause.

  2. #2 by Matt M on Thursday 23 June 2011 - 1240

    The new employer is a tad more generous in its contract with RNs – permitting 15 sick days, 3 personal days and 4 weeks vacation for 0-5 years of employment. Then again I’m now represented by UFCW, not ONA – yes, very odd for a nurse to be represented by a food and service workers’ union. Anyhow, I imagine when our contract is up next year and management takes a look at what ONA is doing now – all the non-ONA employers and unions seem to try and keep up with ONA’s latest offering – our current days off will get a harder look. The new sick clause in the ONA contract is onerous to say the least. ONA management should be ashamed – and those paying those millions in dues should make their displeasure known to their local and provincial union and political representatives. After all, its those on the front lines paying the salaries of the folks sitting at the bargaining table – both sides – via union dues and tax dollars. They should be getting their money’s worth…

    • #3 by torontoemerg on Thursday 23 June 2011 - 1247

      I’m starting to think we should bail on ONA for a real union.

      • #4 by AnonymousRN on Thursday 23 June 2011 - 1847

        CUPE looks pretty strong in this neck of the woods. Too bad I doubt that we could get enough nurses to agree to switch…..

  3. #5 by Beth Boynton, RN, MS on Thursday 23 June 2011 - 2128

    Yes, lets look at the underlying issues. Direct care nursing is one of the most stressful jobs in the world. Honestly, it may not be a healthy profession to work in. I hear older nurses complain that younger nurses don’t have the same work ethic. I think maybe the younger nurses won’t tolerate abuse.

    Beth Boynton, RN, MS author, “Confident Voices: The Nurses’ Guide to Improving Communication & Creating Positive Workplaces”

  4. #6 by Sarah on Monday 27 June 2011 - 2245

    A clause like that will reduce sick time – very few people can afford to not be paid. It will simply encourage nurses to work sick. I’ve worked with a migraine (I had to ask someone else to read the computer screen for me – the aura made it impossible for me to read). I’ve worked with a fever – don’t worry, I wore a mask. My sister worked (as a summer student – no benefits) for over a week with the chicken pox – it was summer, she told everyone they were but bites. This is not in the best interests of patients or staff… but that goes without saying…

  5. #7 by The Nerdy Nurse on Wednesday 06 July 2011 - 0249

    Of course you should punish nurses when they are sick. Who is going to take care of the sick if the sick care givers are sick.
    Scare their immune systems into working right.

    Geez. Seems like the ONA is doing some freaky psychological nursing on nurses.

    Although it seems they are forgetting the very foundation of nursing: Caring.

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