In the months following the 2007 National General Assembly, we returned to the Atlantic Region to start the new mandate with renewed vigour. Our team was established and we were on track for what seemed to be a positive future for the next three years. We were getting ready to hold our traditional regional summer BBQ in the Moncton area as we had for the past several years.
In August, this all changed. My dear friend and confidant for so many years, Vernon Brideau, had a serious four wheeler accident and was left paraplegic due to his injuries. This accident was not only devastating to his family and the local community of Portage River, but was also a serious blow to the moral in the region as Vernon was so well known as a correctional officer and a strong union member and representative. He had been such a vital part of our process since the birth of our union.
As a local leader and former National Vice-President of our union, Vernon became so well known to all the members in the Atlantic Region and abroad. He made so many friends at all these levels coast to coast and at his new posting to Westmorland Institution, which is where he intended to finish out the remaining years of his career. This tragedy has touched so many of us as he is someone we all know so well on a personal level.
We undertook the process of supporting his family in what was to become a very long convalescence and rehabilitation. Various fund-raising events were organized to raise money to assist with the reconstruction of his home and provide for a vehicle. Tickets were sold far and wide for a hockey draw and we raised over $20,000 with that one event. Our Regional Vice-President Barry Amos, Denis Leblanc, and so many others stepped up to help in the effort. Bank accounts were opened so people could donate in support of the cause.
As time passed, Vernon's condition improved and the situation normalized to some extent. In the later part of September, tragedy struck again. Our Regional Vice President Barry Amos was severely injured following a diving accident. The news of his accident and the fact that he was left quadriplegic from his injuries was a huge blow to his family. Over the next several weeks, it became apparent that we were in for a very long haul of fund-raising and support for these families throughout the next several years.
These events were not the entire focus of our work as a Regional Executive but did in fact change the shape of our Regional Executive. The members throughout the region frequently asked about the health and wellness of these two gentlemen and also wanted to know what the union was doing to assist them. People were genuinely interested in supporting them in any way possible. It was clear that the regional membership was demanding we make this effort of fund-raising and support part of our business for the foreseeable future.
We have of course continued do our very best to serve our members over the past three years and a volume of work was undertaken and accomplished in training and representation by our team locally and at the regional level. The following report is abbreviated in comparison to previous national reports from the Atlantic Regional President, but sums up the last three years in the region and national portfolios.
REGIONAL EXECUTIVE, REGIONAL LABOUR-MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE (RLMC), LABOUR RELATIONS
The shape of our Regional Executive changed significantly over the past three years. After Barry was injured, we had to rebuild, at least until we could determine if he would be able to return. As per our constitution, we canvassed our Local Presidents to find a replacement. Doug White, Local President at Atlantic Institution, stepped up and offered for the position. He was supported by the Regional Executive and became the Regional Vice-President for what could be the remainder of the term. Doug was backfilled at Atlantic Institution by Joel Banks who agreed to take on the responsibility of the local presidency. The membership at Atlantic Institution was lucky to have Joel occupy and remain in the position.
Through the course of the next year, Denis Leblanc stepped down as Regional Secretary-Treasurer for personal reasons and was replaced by Pierre Leblanc of Dorchester Institution. Serge Collette, Local President at Westmorland Institution, also stepped down from his duties as Local President for personal reasons and was replaced by Andrew Wallis. Andrew decided to pursue a CX4 competition and was successful. He vacated the position and was replaced by Wayne Hale. Local elections were held in the spring of 2009 at which time Robert Leblanc was elected and is still Local President at Westmorland Institution.
Denis LeClair, long serving president at Springhill Institution, did not reoffer for election in 2009 and the position was filled by Mark Sauveur by acclamation. He stepped down from the position in November of 2009 and was replaced by Jeff Wilkins. Dave Bishop remains as Local President at Dorchester Institution as does Olivia Thynes at Nova Institution for Women. Olivia had been on maternity leave for a period of time and the position of Local President was occupied by Jamie Stone, who was also the local grievance officer at that site.
The changes in management, both at the local and regional level, were frequent. The Regional Deputy Commissioners' seat has been occupied by several managers over the past three years. These changes have had an effect on labour relations in our region, and I am sure it has affected all other regions as well. The fact that the employer has continued to support acting positions for short and long periods of time has also hampered progress on our files locally at some sites.
Regional Training Committee
Atlantic Regional Vice-President Doug White has been in charge of organizing training for the region and has, as mandated, prepared and overseen the process since October 2007. The training sessions, as in the past, aim at developing expertise and providing continuous education to the local shop stewards, grievance officers and other executive members. We have also hosted information sessions on accommodation as a vehicle to educate our representatives on how to best deal with issues related to potential deployment or placement of those with special needs.
In the past year, we have seen the separation of the regional training budget as Dorchester Institution requested to have their share of the budget deposited in a separate account. It is their feeling that they will be able to accomplish their specific training goals better on their own and develop more training for their members. Since the foundation of the union, the Atlantic Regional training fund had been managed in one account to ensure the smaller locals receive training comparable to the larger locals. Their own portion of the training fund would make it difficult to accomplish this. We will continue to try to honour this commitment with the remainder of the regional training budget.
Regional Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Committee
As Regional President, I have continued to sit on the Regional OHS Committee as a means to remain current on all health and safety issues. Doug White, our Regional Vice-President, also has been supported by the regional labour side of the OHS committee as co-chair. He continued to bring forward the issues noted by the labour side of the table and ensures the regional employer follows through on all requests and potential cases pertaining to our members as determined by the local committees. The committee has held quarterly meetings and our union has continued to be a driving force on the issues of importance for health and safety in the region. Most recently, throughout last fall and the winter, the pandemic planning and H1N1 has become a priority issue for the committee and we have continued to monitor the employer's decisions and stats on these issues.
Regional Status of Women Committee
We have seen very limited success in this portfolio over the past several years. There have been a very limited number of gender specific issues raised regionally and no real lasting interest in this process. In May 2009, it was decided by the Regional Executive to try to revive the failed attempts at having this committee function in the region. We asked the Local Presidents to canvass for participants from their sites to attend a meeting at the regional office in Moncton. We hosted a meeting on June 29, 2009. It was attended by female representatives from four of the five sites in the region and during the process, the participants chose a committee leader to sit with the Regional Executive on a monthly basis.
We hope, over the next year, to have the committee generate issues of interest to the female members in the region and also inform them of issues of interest from the other regions. Nancy Manderville of Atlantic Institution, committee leader, is in attendance at this assembly to network with other Status of Women Committee representatives to share concerns of our region on gender specific issues and to gather information on accomplishments from the long standing Status of Women Committees from the other regions. We hope to build on their success, to learn from their practices to better serve the women in our region and address their specific needs for the future.
Regional Grievance Committee
Derrick Cormier, our Regional Grievance Officer from Dorchester Institution, has been quite active in the region working with our CSN union advisor John Mancini. They have worked with the Local Grievance Officers on the process of solving issues related not only to current grievances but also the back log of grievances that has been on the books for a long time. Derrick was liberated as part of a national grievance project between the employer and the union. This whole process was based the previous success in the Ontario Region in dealing with their backlog of grievances and the means they used to address them.
Derrick participated in the process at all the sites in the region working with the Local Grievance Officers to resolve these grievances and to assist the local committees become more effective in the overall process of grievance handling. Our members have to learn to take ownership of their grievances and be responsible and aware of the time frames for advancing the process. Derrick's rapport with the employer in the joint committee process has served us well and his professional approach has made him an important asset to our Regional Executive. He attends our Regional Executive Committee meetings and RLMC and is here today.
Following the decisions of finances at the 2007 National General Assembly, our region received an influx of funds for regional operations. This has allowed us to financially better accomplish all our regional commitments on a monthly basis. It also allowed us to build a surplus to use in a variety of ways. Members of the Regional Executive have traveled to other regions to meet with their executive's members and attend their meetings. They have returned and shared their experiences and offered us the best practices of the other regions.
NATIONAL COMMITTEES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Maintaining a record of all meetings of the National Executive Committee has been the responsibility of the Atlantic Regional President since 2001. The minutes are in affect the written record of the decision making process that has been driven by the members initially from the local level. All decisions, financial or otherwise, have become a part of that written narrative. Following a National Executive Committee meeting, my written account of the National Executive Committee Minutes are sent to the national office for official translation and presented to the National Executive Committee at the next meeting for their corrections. The corrected narrative is then maintained and becomes a part of the yearly audit. The National Audit Committee goes through the National Executive Committee minutes and considers adjustments to their structure and/or content that could improve the minutes and possibly could include these recommendations in the National Audit Report. I have done my level best to ensure we have been consistent with that direction. On a yearly basis, all the National Executive Committee Minutes that have been corrected in their format and approved by the National Executive Committee are then archived by the National President and National Secretary. This body of work is a much used resource for the National Union as it defines those decisions taken on all issues since our National Founding Assembly in 2001.
National Employee Assistance Program (EAP) & Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM)
The issue of EAP and CISM has been a point on the agenda of the Atlantic Regional President at every National Labour-Management Committee either as a part of the main agenda or in the opening of the regional remarks. I made a point of challenging the Commissioner at every opportunity on the health and wellness of the staff. As with many of our issues, we never pass up the opportunity to discuss them.
It is very well known that CSC has never properly funded the EAP. The employer has been comfortable to piggyback the process by direct billing the cost to Sun Life. As we have mentioned previously, it is hard to comprehend that an employer, with a billion dollar plus budget, is comfortable utilizing the health care process to barely fund a program when they should be developing a process to be proactive about the wellness of its employees. It is a proven fact that a dollar invested in the EAP program will yield a four dollar return. This is a proven fact other government departments and private corporations have utilized to ensure the health and productivity of their workforce. We have continued to remind the employer of this to ensure they live up to their Mission Statement.
If there ever was a process that all unions could endorse, this would be it. All those working in the confines of our sites, at community correction centers, and parole officers are subject to the stressors and dangers of the correctional environment. We could all potentially become victims of violence or worn down by the cumulative stress of these environments. Some of our fellow correctional officers will find healthy outlets to deal with their stress and continue to work in this environment for years. Other will not fare so well. We need to develop strategies to ensure all those working at these sites can access resources to help them cope with stress, potential depression and the possibility of addiction in a variety of forms.
The credibility of the programs offered is validated by the numerous individuals participating as EAP referral agents and CISM team members. This has been the strength of the programs. These individuals continue to offer their help in the most selfless way. I am inspired by their dedication to the process and their willingness to offer their time and experience. They are and continue to be the backbone of these programs.
Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM)
CISM, as a process, has changed very little in its delivery and structure over the past three years. The bulk of the budget for this program is primarily used to fund the Coordinator positions in the regions and national. There is a refresher training offered in the regions on a yearly basis and also this is where the initial training is given to the new team members offering their services at the sites. The amount of violent incidents over the past three years at sites across the country has been dealt with as professionally as always.
Our members offering this service continue to distinguish themselves with their experience and knowledge of the members they serve. It is this experience that enables them to determine differences in a person's usual manner that could signal the fact that a member possibly needs help. To those members who have served with integrity and pride in some of the worst possible situations, please accept the thanks and gratitude of your fellow union members. The CISM team offers an invaluable service to their fellow correctional officers and support staff alike. They constantly make themselves available on short notice to try to defuse stress and ease the pressure on all of us. Their insight and integrity is an example to us all.
National EAP/CISM Advisory Committee
The National EAP Advisory Committee has been working hard in the past three years to try to evoke change in what we do as a committee. I have tried to change the focus of what the committee does to what we should be doing to protect the psychological well being of our members. All those around the table, management and union alike, have always wanted to do more and expand the services we offered. I have, in my past reports to the National General Assembly, addressed the ills of our institutions and the fact that our members are constantly pitted against the inmate population and the employer in a pressure cooker environment. This coupled with the constant issues of hours of work, forced OT, institutional incidents, and dealing with actors in management positions all the way up to warden and past that don't take ownership of their portfolios. It would seem some managers are more interested in managing their careers than the safety and wellbeing of our members and the employees under their command. This situation has left our members dealing with an environment where we are helpless to create change. This feeling of helplessness is a main factor in job stress in CSC.
I have tried to compel the employer to seriously look at the situation and the numbers of our members off on Worker Compensation Board (WCB) and disability insurance (DI) for stress related injuries. The numbers in themselves are compelling and speak to the poisonous work environment that I have discussed at this forum in the past. We have also discussed the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder and the comparisons with those who return from a theatre of war impacted heavily on by the environment they encountered. The Canadian Military has had to seriously address this in recent years due to the numbers of our soldiers returning from Afghanistan and the numerous issues they have encountered and the readjustment that they have had to make in their daily lives following duty in that war torn part of the world. Our members share in this type of impact in the daily exposure to the volatile environment of a federal institution.
In our national questionnaire based health and safety study authored by Qussai Samak a few years ago, we spoke at length on these issues. All the work your union has done in the past on these issues have validated and mandated the need for change in the way we address stress in this workplace. The impact of working in the correctional environment over a career is the cornerstone to not only our pension debate but also the responsibility of the employer to provide our members with the tools to deal with the environment we work in to ensure we actually get to our retirement dates healthy enough to enjoy those golden years.
I have waited a long time to be able to say something positive about the employer on this issue. In 2008 and 2009, both in the National Advisory Committee setting and at the National Labour-Management Committee (NLMC), we started to see some positive changes. Cheryl Fraser, as Assistant Commissioner for Human Resources during the 2008-2009 period, was in attendance with the National Advisory Committee for portions of the meetings. Information was being addressed that had been on the table for some time. At a NLMC meeting, it was voiced by Madam Fraser and Commissioner Don Head that the stats for DI and WCB coupled with the incidence of suicide in our group left little doubt that the environment in which we work contributes to the decline in the overall health of our members and potentially leads to the depression that occurs amongst our group following years of exposure to the correctional environment.
This is a huge first step for the employer to acknowledge there is an issue that needs to be addressed. The employer has also validated this by agreeing to have a meeting with EAP Advisory Committee members, national employer representatives, and a medical professional and expert in the fields of stress and depression, Dr. Charles Emmrys. Commissioner Head and Madam Fraser helped to open a door to positive change and I thank them for this as it is a starting point from which we begin to solve these issues and develop strategies to address the issues of stress and depression with all CSC employees working in this environment both in the institutions, community correctional centers, and parole offices. Although uniformed staff take the brunt of the abuse from the inmate population, our coworkers also suffer from the long term exposure in this environment.
National Stress & Depression Focus Group
Our committee work begins as we decide the best approach to take to address the issues. It is the belief of our union that the best means to have the employer address the issues is in the form of advice from a medical expert. I asked the committee to adhere to a process where we would have Dr. Emmyrs or another expert in the field of stress, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder in our group to keep us on track with ongoing advice and medical expertise. In our committee debates, we have looked at different models that are currently being used by other federal departments and various community departments such as mental health and hospital services. It is our mandate to demonstrate to EXCOM the best means to educate our members on the issues of stress and depression associated with a career in corrections. We need only look at the budgets of the Canadian Military and other federal departments to see how seriously this issue is being taken.
Management Structure and Budget for EAP/CISM
The national management reporting structure for the National EAP has been under question for some time. I have voiced the concern nationally that the Commissioner should be able to ask a question in the EXCOM meeting of the Senior Management Group as to the wellness of the staff and the answer should be readily available from that table as the reporting authority for EAP/CISM should be the Assistant Commissioner Corporate Services or at least at that level. We feel regionally it should also be at this level. The fact that the Regional Coordinators have been reclassified to PE4 and National Coordinator have be reclassified to PE5 has demonstrated that the work they do is of a higher classification, but still falls short of our goal of having infrastructure built around these positions so that the coordinators could be out in the field more doing counselling and directly providing the services to all our members. There should be a clerk position attached to the Regional Coordinator position to address the daily correspondence and office duties. We are pleased to see improvement and the fact the employer somewhat addresses the need but still falls short of our goals to supply services to all staff members. In the coming months, we must continue to identify the needs of the infrastructure of the entire process and the clerical positions needed nationally. If all the public service unions work together in these issues, we will see more change of a positive nature because we have already proven our case to the employer on the issue. We have to continue to be a squeaky wheel on the issue to ensure they will not forget our concerns.
National Uniform Committee
The work of the National Uniform Committee has continued over the past few years but unfortunately we have not accomplished the work we had anticipated for this period of time. The issues we were dealing with in 2007 are still on the table in some way shape or form. The wheels of progress have been turning very slowly on issues pertaining to the ceremonial uniform. Although the meeting process has been consistent, there continues to be issues with the manner in which the employer provides uniform parts and resolves long standing issue to our members. This is our longest standing committee and there is no reason to expect the committee work will end any time soon. The national employer has been consistent in the approach as the senior manager in the process of the uniform remains in his portfolio.
National Uniform Committee Meetings
Pushkar Godbole, Director General Technical Services, remains in charge on the management side of the house of the process although there have been changes in the managers for support services. Lynn Farrell has departed from the position and taken her retirement. Dan Fitzpatrick took the reins for the employer as point person for support services and, with the help of Sylvia Brookings, has been consistent in their approach in meeting processes. As mentioned previously the meetings have been consistent.
Logistical Approach to Uniform issue and replenishment
For the past year, the employer has prepared the transition from the depot based process of issuing uniforms to a logistical approach to have all the issues dealt with by one manufacturer and distributor of all uniform parts. Logistics Corporation in the Montreal area has been awarded the contract to supply the work uniform and to develop the product we have agreed to as the ceremonial uniform. I have seen a sample of the ceremonial uniform and it does meet the requirements we stipulated.
The wait times and general service might improve with the use of a supplier such as this. We can only hope it will improve over the service we had seen out of depot over the past few years. The issue there had always been the short staffing. I hope to also see improvement in the quality of the product as this company is also providing uniforms to other federal departments. Only time will tell if this decision is in our favour and if this company and the approach proposed provide the service we have been entitled to.
There has been only one significant change to the boot allowance over the past three years. As we had already informed the national membership in one of our flyers, it has become a non-taxable item so there is no need to present your receipt to the employer for the item. We had hoped to have the yearly benefit increased to reflect the cost of the footwear required but the employer has not moved on the issue. With the issue of the new uniform supplier coming on line, the employer has proposed to look at the use of the manufacturer Logistics to provide footwear for the work dress uniform. We have already seen the reality of this with CSC on the work dress boot we used to wear and all the issues associated with it. We told the employer we would rather see the current benefit increased. There are no guarantees that the product they would develop would meet the needs of our members. Presently, we are at least in a position to make our own choice of footwear and have a portion of it paid. The individuals who are need of orthotics will still have access to resolution through the Public Service Health care plan to address their specific needs.
Institutional Standard of Dress
There have been discussions at the committee table on the issue of the standard of dress in our institutions. The employer wants to see improvement in this area. We had contended at the meeting that the uniform standard of dress had been debated and agreed to several years ago. The standard clearly states that it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure there is a high standard of dress at all of the sites. The operational manager is in charge of ensuring that this is addressed at the beginning of the shift. The employer can at that time ensure all those coming on shift are properly dressed and have the appropriate safety equipment on their person. Short of policing each other on the issue of dress code adherence, the employer will inevitably have to hold up their end of the bargain on the issue.
The long awaited ceremonial uniform is finally in the process of being distributed to the members following a five year wait. The uniform sizing fiasco we saw during the implementation of the work dress uniform has not convinced the employer to have all our members properly sized. They intend to have individuals at the sites trained to do the sizing. Remember how well this worked with the vests! I thought the employer would have learned by now that more work on the front end guarantees a good finished product. At the last National Uniform Committee meeting of December 2009, the employer informed the union that they would not be paying for footwear with regards to the ceremonial uniform. Imagine, a uniform agreed to back in 2005, that we have waited 5 years for, and in the final months, the employer casually informs the union "oh by the way, pay for your own shoes". The employer was approached on this issue at the March 2010 NLMC and the Commissioner confirmed that the employer would provide footwear to the same standard as the Canadian Military and I have received verification of this from their committee lead Dan Fitzpatrick.
This is one of the reasons the uniform committee will always be a reality for this union and its members. The employer has to be watched in every aspect of application of the uniform process to ensure our members have a voice in the debate on these issues and the employer knows we will not hesitate to inform our members if they stray from promises made to this union or its membership.
The past three years have been challenging to say the very least. The personal tragedies we have endured have not defined the Atlantic Regional direction over the past three years but have changed the shape of our Regional Executive and certainly allowed us to rally to a cause and see the completion of our efforts. Our participation in the support of the GVI Seven and their tour conducted in the region showed the necessity of solidarity in the face of an employer who would rather lay blame at the lowest level than accept their flawed management strategies and ask the union to help rebuild in the wake of tragic deaths. The victory at GVI was a victory for all the FSW`s as it demonstrates that these sites have to follow the same CD`s that all the other sites are obligated to and management cannot needlessly risk lives to pander to gender specific issues.
I would like to thanks the Atlantic Regional Executive for their support throughout the past three years. Together we have accomplished a great deal. The rejuvenation of the Status of Women Committee and the Regional Grievance Committee are two accomplishments that the union can be extremely proud of. The numerous deployments back to the Atlantic Region from our institutions in other regions also stands out and we are still working on similar cases and we try to insure all members who want to return have the opportunity to do so. I would also like to thank the Regional Vice-President Doug White for all his work in a variety of portfolios who stepped up in to this role in a very tragic time. His hard work on rosters and OSH has been invaluable to our members in Atlantic and Canada.
I would like to close by saying thank you to the National Executive Committee for all their help over the past three years. Particularly I would like to thank our National President Pierre Mallette for all his assistance in our region. He does not always get acknowledged for his hard work or his constant efforts in so many roles. The fact that he has offered to remain in the role of National President heading into what could be a long negotiation validates his dedication to our union. Pierre has been there since the very beginning and there is no one more qualified or more devoted to this union or its members.