I respectfully submit my report as your National President from May to September 2020.
I have sat here for a few days contemplating what to write in my report given that there has been so much going on over the past 7 months. There have been so many meetings, media, and grievances that I did not want to write a novel. The amount of work that has been accomplished over the past 7 months has been plenty and has included some positive changes and improved support for many. I want to acknowledge and thank the National Executive Officers and the UVAE Staff for all their hard work and support over the past 7 months as we journeyed through to a new norm of working virtually from home during a Global Pandemic.
We have been in the pandemic state now for 7 months, this has impacted many of our families, colleagues, friends, neighbours and ourselves in a variety of ways. The impact to the physical and mental health to many due to this pandemic has been far reaching. UVAE NEO have worked since the very beginning of Treasury Board’s announcement with VAC Management to ensure the safety of our members across Canada as per TB Directions. It has not been without some challenges to management on actions they were trying to take without following proper Policies and Legislations.
It has been the communication through local executive members and members at large who have been key in sharing information with their RVPs who then raise the concerns with me. I want to thank Local Executive members and members at large for being our eyes and ears in the offices and raising concerns in a timely manner. With your assistance, we are able to intervene at earlier stages with the employer.
We know that working from home for all members does not work and that there are a percentage of our members who want and need to work within the office environment for their mental health. We have been working with the employer through National Committees, sub-committees, working groups and the OSH Policy Committee to get the safety measures in place in all of the worksites across Canada. Putting the safety measures in place in all worksites is still a work in progress with the OSH Policy Committee still being left out of the developmental process of these procedures and policies within the Department that ensure our members safety. The offices need to be safely set up and properly sanitized, including air vent cleaning prior to any member returning to a worksite.
I have been meeting with the employer since early January regarding the Union’s concerns into the Departments non-compliance issues within the Canada Labour Code Part II. We arrived at the fact that UVAE was able to appoint two additional representatives on the OSH Policy Committee to help represent our members’ health and safety concerns and to help ensure the employer comes into compliance with the CLC Part II. The Committee has been making progress on some items; however, the Policy Committee is not being involved where they need to be as per the CLC Part II. We are continuously raising these issues of non-inclusion of the Policy Committee with the employer.
The documents/procedures/policies that come out through the OSH Directorate, we have found many times to only come to the OSH Policy Committee to put a stamp on it so that the Department could show that the OSH Policy Committee saw it, then the employer can claim they consulted on it. This has been a huge concern of mine and the OSH Policy Committee representatives which we are working through to make effective and required changes to the employer’s thought process on the OSH Policy Committees participation within the OSH Portfolio of the Department.
We have unfortunately seen throughout the pandemic where specific managers and regions decided to go rogue and try to implement or have our members do something that was putting our members’ health and safety in jeopardy. We spoke out when these rogue movements were brought to our attention or if we had heard of situations to put an end to these rogue movements. Sometimes we were too late as it was already completed, however, this has just made me realize further that not all of our membership knows the health and safety rights they have within the workplace and how to speak up against something they are being asked to do that they suspect would put their safety in jeopardy.
This is something that I am going to work on with the UVAE OSH Policy Committee Reps to create something that we can send out to all of our members that cover their basic Health and Safety rights including during the pandemic or crisis situations and who to contact if they have any health or safety concerns. I will continue to work with the OSH Policy Committee representatives to get our Department into compliance with the CLC Part II and OSH Regulations.
I have advised the Department that I am at my boiling point with managers going rogue and putting our members’ health and safety in jeopardy. I have further advised the Department that one more manager going rogue and putting our members health and safety into jeopardy would see the Union go to the Labour Program with all of the non-compliance concerns.
The OSH Policy Committee Reps and I are monitoring the situation within the department and will meet again to discuss where we are at.
I used to have bi-lat meetings with the DGFO to discuss concerns within Field Operations, however, these stopped following my meeting in February 2020 and have not been scheduled since.
I have been meeting regularly every 2 weeks with the ADM for SD, A/DG for VRAB, and BPA. My meetings with the DGHR have been intermittent and have now been scheduled every 2 weeks for the next few months. Even though some of these meetings only take place every two weeks, it does not and has not precluded me from calling them directly when there are concerns.
In addition to our day to day functions, I have been very active in efforts to pressure the Government to deal with the urgent concerns of UVAE members. This includes the morale in the Department, case load numbers, backlog of disability files, excessive overtime, health and safety concerns and a variety of other key issues that impact our members. This requires regular contact, communication and meetings with departmental officials at all levels from the local and regional to national office.
Many of our problems are also political or require political action in order to resolve them. To that end, I have written and met with the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs on several occasions. I have also written to his counterparts in both the NDP and Conservative Party and have met with the NDP Veterans’ Affairs critic and I am waiting to schedule a meeting with the Conservative critic. Unfortunately, the letters written to the Minister of VAC since the pandemic started have been gone unanswered.
I have completed several different media interviews regarding the backlog within the Department and the Case Management caseload numbers including letters to editors in response to stories about Veterans and our Department.
In March 2020, I presented in front of the Advisory Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACVA) regarding the backlog. Presently I am waiting for the ACVA to have the new appointees made and when back in session I will be returning in front of ACVA to present our survey results which covered from initial assessment and processing of applications, the interactions with Medavie BlueCross, Mental Health for both Veterans and their families to the process of helping Veterans navigate the systems. This could take place sometime in November depending on Parliament.
We have now completed the full transfer of the Component’s banking to BMO and have officially closed our account and dealings with Laurentian Bank. The customer service has been much easier to reach and respond to our queries and troubleshooting quickly any concerns. The online interface has been a savior in being able to keep a close eye on the Component’s daily financial operations which is one of the key responsibilities as National President.
I have worked with our Financial Administration Officer to change some of the accounting methods within the Component and to bring us in line with proper accounting rules and principles. Working virtually had a few challenges at the beginning, though thankfully for the technology these days we have been able to find solutions to continue working in a similar manner as being face to face in an office.
When the pandemic first hit, we were in the process of setting the Component up to start our 2019 Audit with our new Auditors. All the financials were in the office, though the building was closed due to the pandemic. I requested access to obtain our Financials to work on our audit and once documents were received they were provided to our FAO who worked closely with our Auditors to scan documents to them, mail items to them and many phone call and email exchanges. We were able to complete the audit process in about 4 months virtually and got sent the audited financials to the locals at the end of August.
As noted in my last report, I was working with the Department to review and update the National Terms of Reference for Labour Management Consultation Committee’s, however, this has been put on hold by the Department until the New Year.
I responded to some additional Essential Service Agreement (ESA) requests from the Department with most of the requests being declined as they were new and not previously put forward during the initial request and negotiations. The ESA was completed, and the Agreement in Principle was signed by both the Department and myself in April 2019.
Once the Pandemic hit and Treasury Board provided information on Critical Employees, there were a few requests submitted by the Department for additional ESA’s which part of the Departments rationale for wanting these other positions designated was based on the pandemic situation. I responded in August to the additional requests received and am waiting to see if the Department wants to file a disagreement with TB over my denial of specific positions. As members have ratified the Collective Agreement a few days ago, I am not sure if the Department will pursue their other ESA requests.
We have our NLMCC coming up at the end of October and based on what has transpired within the Department over the past 7 months it should be a very fulsome discussion.
We have our second survey that will be closing shortly, and this survey is key to hearing directly from members on what they have been facing with regards to Harassment, Discrimination and Mental Health impacts in our Department. We have heard the department many times note that they will not take anecdotal information and wanted proof of the concerns we have been raising for some time. One would think that when a group of representatives have been raising the same concerns for many, many, months/years through multiple levels that the Department would work with us to resolve these issues and concerns versus taking a backseat and hoping that the issues/concerns will just go away in time. More pressure will be put on the Department and the Minister of VAC when the results of the survey are complete.
I was happy to see that the liberation of the RVPs was extended until end of Fiscal, though a little disappointed that a decision regarding my request to the Department for full-time liberation has not yet been finalized.
In early fall 2019, I started discussions with the department about looking at ways to better support the locals across Canada through an MOA. I gained the support of our previous ADM/SD for an MOA to support the locals though nothing was finalized prior to his retirement. Then, when the new DG/HR and ADM/SD came onboard, I raised the same points with them regarding an MOA. Following a few discussions, a 6-month trial MOA was agreed upon and was implemented on October 1, 2020.
This will be reviewed at the halfway point to determine the viability and effectiveness of the MOA to see if anything needs to be amended/updated based on the trial period. I am looking to have the Department support this MOA on an ongoing permanent basis to ensure that our Locals and Local Executive members are able to have a better work/life balance. I see this MOA as being a huge support to our locals across Canada and hope that they all utilize the terms of the MOA to support and engage their locals.
As I write this from home, I am saddened to know that again, we will not be together face to face as a team or have our evening discussions and get togethers.
I find that those are very key to our team and the great work that we do. Being able to collaborate after our day meetings are always a highlight for me as they are well versed in many different topics and we always include laughter, good food, brainstorming, and sharing of frustrations we have with the employer. The dinners together turn into working dinners, the late nights talking in a lobby or going for walks I have always found to be a great team building opportunity. I would like us to remember that even though we are working virtually, we are still doing the same work, for the same reasons and we are here to support each other and effect changes for all UVAE members.
We have many challenges and concerns with the Department that we will continue to work collaboratively to find ways to challenge and effect change for our members.
I will close by sending a huge thank you too all UVAE members and the NEO for all your support and hard work. Please stay safe during these continued unprecedented times. I will provide more detail on my report verbally during our meetings.