Saskatchewan summer is in full swing! Kids and grandkids are about halfway through their break from school and most of us are enjoying a bit more time outdoors. It’s a beautiful summer for having a picnic in your backyard or at a local park, shopping at your local farmers’ market, fishing at the lake, visiting family and friends, and exploring new destinations.
But no matter the time of year, government cuts to programs and services and the rising cost of living are felt by many. Whether you’re worrying about your job, or concerned about issues facing your friends and neighbours, the Labour Relations Officers and staff at SGEU continue to support and work for you to help tackle issues in your workplace and in your community – all year round.
We know that no matter the season, our members provide services that help build this province and care for its citizens. It’s too bad we can’t say the same about our provincial government, which continues to head down a path of austerity with funding and program cutbacks that fall hard on the backs of everyday working people and their families.
Our members are seeing the impacts directly at their workplaces as pressures grow. As a result, it’s getting harder to do the job we signed up for. Increased caseloads, inadequate funding, higher school enrolments, and a growing inmate population mean added pressures for our members who work in community-based services, health care, education, and corrections. The government’s push for privatization means sell-offs, and the loss of services and potential revenue when it comes to liquor stores and cannabis retail licensing. Budget cuts to municipalities, changes to program funding, and other austerity measures have resulted in utility rate increases, property tax hikes, layoffs, and municipal and crown corporations employees needing to do more with less. Reduced funding by the government also means job losses and difficulty reaching agreement at the bargaining table across all sectors.
In July, after contract negotiations between the Public Service/Government Employment bargaining unit and the provincial government broke down, the PS/GE held strike vote meetings and received a strike mandate. This does not mean there will be immediate job action. The negotiating committee is willing to return to the bargaining table, and the mandate gives the bargaining committee added strength to seek a fair contract that protects existing rights and improves wages and benefits for SGEU members who live and work across the province.
Our Health Providers Bargaining Committee is also in contract negotiations, along with our tri-union partners CUPE and SEIU-West. Members of our negotiating team are holding information meetings in July and August across the former Mamawetan, Keewatin-Yatthe, and Kelsey Trail regions to update members about bargaining and seek feedback.
As many of our bargaining units continue to negotiate new contracts, I want to extend special appreciation to all members of the negotiating committees for their work and perseverance through what can be very difficult, long, and stressful days preparing for, and working at, the bargaining table. I also want to thank all SGEU members for their patience and understanding as they wait for updates and information about potential tentative agreements.
Much of the difficulty at the negotiating table, not just for SGEU, is the provincial government’s stubborn refusal to budge on the issue of fair wages. I have yet to hear of an unreasonable wage request, but the government insists times are too tough even for modest increases. Yet they have a hard time explaining exactly where the money has gone. No one will disagree that in difficult economic times, belt-tightening and careful spending are inevitable. Unfortunately, that’s not really what we’ve seen from this government, as it continues to spend money on high-priced consultants, costly mega-projects, and misguided lawsuits, such as the recent attempt to fight the federal government over the carbon tax, and a lawsuit against protestors who simply want the government’s attention and action on the unfortunate treatment of Indigenous children and youth in the province.
The Sask Party government seems to believe it can use our members as a scapegoat, saying there is simply no money in the budget. But I would argue that budgets are about choices, and this government has made some bad choices, with Saskatchewan people left to suffer as a result.
In addition to current austerity measures, the impacts of the Sask Party government’s cruel 2017 budget are still being felt. The 2018 budget wasn’t as harsh, but it did very little to solve the problems created by the previous budget. Just over one year later, people across this province are still suffering because of cuts to the provincial hearing aid plan, changes in funding for autism services for children, the closure of STC, education underfunding, and mounting pressures in health care and long-term care.
SGEU will continue to lobby on your behalf to pressure the premier and his MLAs to do better. The legislature is not in session over the summer months, so you’re likely to see your local MLA in your community. I encourage you to speak to your representative about the work you do and the value it brings to the province and its residents. If you haven’t done so yet, send an email or letter, or phone your MLA to express your concerns about where your tax dollars are being spent.
On a related note, please “save the date” and make plans to attend a rally on October 25 at the legislature. Details will be released as the date draws closer, so keep your eye out for emails, social media posts, and other communications. We need you there to help show this government that it’s on the wrong track.
We have some exciting activities and campaigns coming up! In August, we will be launching a unique mobile phone app to help promote public liquor stores. You’ll also be seeing new billboards around Saskatoon and Regina, and in a number of rural locations. We’ll be running our very popular TV ads again in early fall as well.
We try to communicate information to our membership in a variety of ways, including email. To do this, we need your home/personal email address. If you’re not already receiving emails from SGEU, I would encourage you to send your email address to MIS@sgeu.org. One of the best ways to keep on top of what’s happening with SGEU is to join our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter (@SGEU) or check out the SGEU website, including the sector web pages.
As president of SGEU, I’m proud that we support a variety of causes and activities that impact our members. Earlier this summer, we supported and participated in activities celebrating National Indigenous People’s Day. In June, it was also nice to see such large crowds, including our own members, at Pride Week events across the province. I was pleased to attend a BBQ hosted by SEIU-West members at Elmwood Group Homes, with funds collected to support the work of our members at the Saskatoon Sexual Assault and Information Centre. The SSAIC has not had a funding increase in three years and as a result has had to cut some services. I also met with some of our members at the John Howard Society in June, when I attended a BBQ that raised funds for a community home for LGBTQ2S youth. I hope to see many more of you as I attend other events across the province.
I hope you can make it out to the annual Labour Day picnics and other activities taking place over the Labour Day weekend. This is always a good opportunity to come together with fellow SGEU members and our colleagues in other unions to share good food, friendship, and family-friendly fun as we remember the sacrifices and celebrate the gains of the labour movement.
The summer goes by far too quickly. I hope you find some time to relax and enjoy it. Stay safe if you’re on the road or working on or visiting the farm – through what looks like it may be a season of intense heat and weather systems.
All the best,
Bob Bymoen, SGEU President
(306) 522-8571 ext.219