AUPE News

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AUPE mourns passing of former president John Booth

John Booth, former AUPE president, passed away on Apr. 8 at the age of 77.

“I was saddened to hear of John’s death this morning,” said AUPE president Guy Smith. “John dedicated his life to serving the public, including as president of AUPE, and he will be missed.”

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May Day rally, march and more

AUPE members are invited to attend events in Edmonton in honour of May Day, International Workers Day, beginning with a rally at the Alberta Legislature at 1p.m. on Sunday, May 1st. Bring your flags, banners and placards to let everyone know what the most pressing concerns for workers in your union and community are.

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AUPE issues bad faith complaint against AHS, launches fight to save Sundre long-term care

SUNDRE – The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees issued a bargaining in bad faith complaint against Alberta Health Services today for its failure to disclose plans to close public long-term care beds in Sundre.

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Local 006 Workload Assessment Model Information Tour

Local 006 representatives will be traveling the province over the next two months to inform members about the upcoming Workload Assessment Model (WAM). Please check the table below for a date near you!

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Not Alone

By Communications Staff

According to one study, nearly one in four corrections workers shows signs of PTSD. AUPE is joining other advocacy groups to end the stigma around this devastating epidemic

Norm describes the atmosphere inside a jail as “70 per cent boredom, 30 per cent chaos.”

“It doesn’t take much to tip things into chaos,” the former 15-year Correctional Peace Officer explains. “Just missing a packet of sugar with their meal is enough to set some inmates off into a rage.”

Jails can be powder kegs of tension, where violence can erupt at any second. The staff on duty must be keenly aware of their surroundings at all times and constantly on the alert for any hint of trouble. It’s really no surprise that there’s an epidemic of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among corrections workers.

One study estimated it could affect nearly 25 per cent of corrections officers, with an even greater proportion showing signs of less severe critical incident stress. To put that into perspective, Canadian corrections workers are more likely to develop PTSD than U.S. soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War (20 per cent).

Norm is not his real name. We’ve given him a pseudonym to protect his privacy. He will never work inside a jail again because of his PTSD.

“We’re still trying to find meaningful (alternative) work,” the Local 003 member explains. “The psychologist told me I shouldn’t be near any kind of trauma ever again. That’s not an easy thing for a guy like me to take. I’ve always been the guy who steps in to help. If there’s a car accident I would be there.”

Norm’s life was upended two years ago when he responded to a vicious assault on an inmate who was screaming for help. As Norm arrived, the unconscious victim (who survived) appeared to be dead on the floor.

But it was the other inmates’ response to this horrific event that deeply unsettled Norm.

“Some of them were celebrating,” he said. “The victim looked dead, and they didn’t care. They just went on with their business, stepping around him as if nothing was out of the ordinary.”

Norm said he went numb and “faded off.” As he and his fellow CPOs worked to restore order, he did his job like a robot.

“I was in a daze. It wasn’t until later that I had a panic attack. I couldn’t get the victim’s screams out of my head.”

Norm reported for work the next day as if nothing was wrong, but the incident ate at him from the inside out.

“I became hyper-vigilant all the time,” he says. “I couldn’t go into large crowds like at a mall. I couldn’t handle a lot of noise. If we went to a restaurant, I had to sit with my back to the wall.”

Norm knew something was wrong, so he took time off work and sought professional help.

He was able to return to work, but three months later he was exposed to another violent incident.

“The whole time I was out on the range I was fighting back panic. Then a guy walked behind me and I nearly lost it. I had to leave the unit. That’s when they told me I was done.”

Norm has been off work for more than a year while his employer tries to find meaningful work for him. He’s been getting help and support, but it’s a long road.

“I find that talking to others who have had similar experiences – corrections workers, police, firefighters – is really helpful.”

For many corrections workers, their PTSD isn’t traced back to a single, catastrophic event. Rather, they’re worn down by repeated exposure to highly stressful and emotionally draining situations. Call it death by a thousand small cuts.

A study by Corrections Canada, which is responsible for federal prisons like the Edmonton, Bowden and Drumheller Institutions, found that 45 per cent of corrections workers have been exposed to a murder, while 58 per cent have been exposed to at least one suicide.

More than four in five have witnessed an assault, while 65 per cent have been exposed to a riot. One third
have been exposed to a hostage-taking, while nearly one in 12 have themselves been held hostage.

Many corrections workers show symptoms of critical incident stress, such as sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, flashbacks and exaggerated startle responses.

The numbers in the federal study come as no surprise to AUPE Vice-President Erez Raz, a Correctional Peace Officer who chairs the union’s Occupational Health and Safety Committee. “It’s a demanding, high risk job, and the men and women who work in our corrections system accept that. But we need to ensure that the risks and hazards are minimized through the best possible training, OH&S practices and support from management.”

Another critical component, Raz added, “is ensuring that proper support and help is available for corrections workers after they’re involved in a critical incident.”

Too often, he said, the shame and fear of being labeled a weakling or unreliable keep corrections workers from seeking help. Instead they suffer in silence while their lives unravel around them.

That’s why AUPE has teamed up with the War Horse Awareness Foundation and the Spiral Phoenix Trauma Institute to launch the Heroes Get Help anti-stigma campaign to help tear down the shame and misconceptions surrounding depression, anxiety and PTSD due to critical incident stress.

“Stigma is still the number one obstacle,” said War Horse founder Deanna Lennox, a retired RCMP officer. “It’s very much considered a career killer.”

When hearing loss ended Lennox’s career as an operational police officer, she sunk into a depression. “I was very much attached to my identity as a police officer. Suddenly it was taken away from me. Losing my identity was traumatic. I didn’t know who I was beyond what I did for a living. I felt utterly lost and alone.”

At the same time, years of stressful, frightening and heart-breaking memories – all part of the job – bubbled to the surface and left her an emotional wreck. She found solace and healing working with her palomino horse, Maggie.

Lennox, who retired in 2013, founded War Horse to reach out to front-line first responders. Along with assisting first responders to find help, the foundation organizes the annual War Horse Symposium and provides equine-assisted programs for sufferers and their families.

The Heroes Get Help campaign has a website that helps sufferers understand what’s happening to them, and lists resources where they can go for help. Check out the website at www.heroesgethelp.com.

Often, the first step toward healing is the hardest. AUPE is trying to make that easier by providing a free, confidential crisis hotline and initial counseling service. AUPE members who deal with critical stress and trauma in the workplace can call 1-844-744-7026. After an initial assessment members are entitled to up to six counseling sessions per incident. The service is provided by Solareh, a mental health counseling organization, and is completely free and confidential to AUPE members. Crisis support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. If something happens at work and you need help dealing with it, call.

“A lot of AUPE members face trauma and potential violence on a frequent basis,” said AUPE President Guy Smith. “Certainly our peace officers and regulatory agents do, but also human services workers and many of our members in the health sector, like emergency room staff. Mental health and emotional safety are among the most pressing OH&S issues for this union, and we will continue to push employers to ensure they are doing all they can to protect our members’ wellbeing.”

Smith added: “Government has an important role to play, and we will continue to push for better health and safety regulation and legislation to protect workers, and to ensure they get the help and support they need.”

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Making History

By Merryn Edwards, Communications Staff

Government employees brought AUPE into being in 1976 by struggling for their right to form an independent union. In 2016, AUPE celebrates its 40th Anniversary as major developments impacting the rights of our members are on the horizon

Rights, restrictions and resistance: AUPE then and now

“When I started in 1970, we had no maternity leave, we had very little vacation leave, we had no long term disability. As a married woman, when I started, you couldn’t belong to the pension plan.” Lorraine Ellis was 21 years old when she joined the department of Health and Social Development as a records room clerk.

It was the era of manual typewriters, Gestetner machines that created triplicate carbon copies, and, for women workers, a lot of discrimination. “You had to quit when you got pregnant. You couldn’t wear pants. We had to wear skirts. It was a blessed day when they finally said we could wear pantsuits, but we had to have a matching jacket and pants with a shirt.”

At that time, AUPE didn’t exist yet, and its precursor, the Civil Service Association of Alberta (CSAA) had little power to represent the interests of government employees. But as the public sector grew through the 1960s, government employees became increasingly vocal in their demands for an independent trade union capable of effectively representing them.

AUPE’s Centennial Committee is looking back at that volatile time, gathering the stories of people who were there. Gail Iler, Lorraine Ellis and Ed Kopchenko are some of AUPE’s life members who have shared their experiences.

Kopchenko started with the forestry service in 1961 at a rate of $1.75/hour, frequently working long hours in remote locations with no overtime pay or allowance for rough bush conditions where he faced major health and safety concerns. He described traveling up the Athabasca River on a boat: “Well the damn thing would roar. I came out of it one time and had to stop and cut a hole in the sleeping bag to get some cotton to plug my ears up, my ears started to hurt so bad.”

Hired in 1967 as a social worker in Grande Prairie, Iler also worked long hours with no overtime pay and had to use her own vehicle without compensation. “I was green as grass. I didn’t know a thing,” said Iler. “They didn’t put me in any training, but thank God I was with people who were very understanding.” But before long, Iler’s frontline role connected her to her community: “I got up there and got involved with the job and got to know the kids and got to know the families and traveled around the area.”

These stories help illustrate a larger national shift described by historian Desmond Morton: “By the 1960s, a generation that regarded a civil service position as the height of reasonable ambition was rapidly overtaken by post-1945 employees for whom a lifetime of lower wages, unquestioning obedience and official secrecy was too high a price to pay for job security and superannuation. […] Old and familiar grievances, from institutional over-crowding to female employment ghettoes, were no longer an inevitable feature of working in a provincial mental hospital, jail or office but evils to be corrected.”

Yet despite this cultural and generational shift, Alberta government workers in the 60s and early 70s did not yet have an organization capable of dealing with their concerns. “If you had a problem, so be it, you go figure it out,” said Kopchenko. “There was no steward or anybody to handle it for you.”

Although CSAA members paid dues – “about two bits a month” – the legal restrictions CSAA faced when it tried to raise concerns meant there was little to be done if the government did not agree. “We talked but there was no real negotiations,” said Kopchenko. “The government said that they passed a law in parliament saying that they’ll increase the wages 2 per cent or 3 per cent or 5 per cent, and that was it.”

Nevertheless, the CSAA did provide a venue for workers to come together. When Ellis attended her first CSAA meeting with another female co-worker, there were only about three or four women in a crowd of about 400 men. “I said to her, ‘I think we’re in the wrong meeting.’”

Many of the members in her division had trade union backgrounds in the United Kingdom: “I heard about their days across the ocean how their unions fought for rights, and I became interested.”

One of those English trade unionists was Bill Broad, who became president of CSAA and led the organization through its transition to AUPE. Broad passed away last year at the age of 93, but fortunately some of his story is recorded in an oral history interview conducted in 2005.

Broad left school at 14 to help bring in money after his father died. At 16, he participated in his first strike at a Rolls Royce plant. “In Britain it was different,” he remembered. “The shop steward was a powerful individual. He could take you out on strike just by saying, ‘Let’s all go out.’” Broad was first elected President of the CSAA in 1972, campaigning against the close relationship between the association and the government.

The CSAA hoped to find an ally in Peter Lougheed’s Progressive Conservative government, which had replaced the Social Credit party in 1971 after 36 years in power. Shortly before that historic election, Lougheed wrote a letter to the CSAA, promising that “a Progressive Conservative government would move very quickly to give the Civil Service a much broader and definitive act which would give the members the same basic bargaining rights enjoyed by organized labour in the Province.” However, Lougheed’s government only amended legislation to implement compulsory binding arbitration. The move fell far short of the promise to give provincial employees the same bargaining rights enjoyed by other organized workers, in particular the right to strike.

In 1973, CSAA began consciously attempting to transform itself into a bona fide union, affiliating to the Canadian Labour Congress and initiating four illegal strikes, culminating in a massive three-day strike by 12,500 General Service workers on Oct. 1- 3, 1974. These strikes in defiance of the government and restrictive legislation were successful in securing significant wage increases and other improvements and were considered a rite of passage.

Ellis remembers getting caught up in the excitement of the move toward forming a union: “I was 21 years old, and I just kind of went, wow. I came from a very Christian home, very hardworking, and when I got involved, my whole family thought that I had become communist.”

Lougheed’s government repeatedly stonewalled the CSAA’s calls for legislative changes. However, prior to the 1975 provincial election, Lougheed promised to establish a joint task force of government and CSAA representatives to investigate and propose solutions to the growing provincial public service labour crisis, successfully securing labour peace during the election campaign.

In 1976, acting on the interim recommendations of the joint task force, the government repealed the CSAA Act, which allowed the CSAA to become a full-fledged trade union. The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees was created the same day and held its founding convention the following year. AUPE was born, but its future was anything but secure.

Repealing the CSAA Act was one of very few examples of agreement between the two sides of the task force. Internal government documents would eventually reveal the government side never had any intention of extending the right to strike to its employees, a fundamental premise of CSAA/AUPE’s participation in the process.

In the end, the union and government sides of the task force issued separate reports, and the government report formed the basis of the Public Service Employee Relations Act, or PSERA, introduced in May 1977. Ellis remembers the act as “a slap in the face.”

PSERA barred government employees from striking and introduced fines of up to $10,000 for any person who caused or attempted to cause a strike. The legislation compelled public sector unions to follow a compulsory arbitration process, but excluded crucial issues from arbitration, such as work assignment and evaluation, training, promotion, transfers and pensions – items over which the government retained sole authority.

Yet despite this major setback, AUPE made significant gains for its members in the early years of its existence. Oral history participants identified wins such as overtime pay, a grievance procedure, a northern subsistence allowance, compensation for parking and the use of personal vehicles for work, and disability insurance as some of the most significant gains.

In 1980, a young AUPE would mount another successful wildcat strike, in direct opposition to and defiance of PSERA. It was dubbed the “apples and oranges” strike after comments by government representatives that MLA salaries, which had recently gone up 47 per cent, could not be compared to the wages of government workers.

“As AUPE enters its 40th year, the future of PSERA and the rights of provincial employees are once again at issue,” said AUPE Secretary-Treasurer Jason Heistad. A landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling found blanket bans on strikes by public sector employees violate fundamental rights protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. An Alberta court subsequently ordered the government to rewrite offending sections of PSERA and the Alberta Labour Relations Code.

“The history of AUPE is intimately bound up with the history of government-imposed restrictions on our rights,” said AUPE Vice-President and Centennial Committee Chair Glen Scott. “We must learn from the struggles of our predecessors to better represent our members and stand up for the rights of working people in Alberta.”

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Bargaining Update - AHS ANC

Your bargaining team met with the mediator March 9, 10, 29 and 30 in Edmonton. We’re pleased to report all non-monetary items have been dealt with.

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Nominate an AUPE EcoStar today!

AUPE’s Environmental Committee is currently accepting nominations for the 3rd annual EcoStar Award, recognizing an AUPE member who has initiated or championed environmental initiatives or campaigns.

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AUPE responds to Metro's coverage of calls for wage freezes, rollbacks

AUPE Vice-President Susan Slade sent the following letter to the Edmonton and Calgary editors of Metro, which published a story March 29 repeating misleading claims and calls for public sector wage freezes and rollbacks.

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Alberta’s largest union welcomes Workers’ Compensation Board review

EDMONTON – Alberta Union of Provincial Employees’ Vice-President Susan Slade said the government’s announcement of a review to the Workers’ Compensation Board is a welcome move that should improve protections for workers around the province.

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