07/28/2014 04:51 EDT | Updated 09/27/2014 05:59 EDT

Don't Stop Promoting Dialogue With Health Care Professionals

For close to a month now, Nadine Lambert (nurse and vice-president responsible for health-care professionals) and I have been crisscrossing Québec to meet with union members in all regions. It's been a real pleasure! We've had an opportunity to talk with hundreds of our members about the state of our working conditions and prospects for improving them in the coming year.

A number of points strike us in these discussions. First, despite what the public seems to perceive, our members continue to be concerned about the deterioration of the health and social services system. They are also very concerned about the impact of employers' budget choices (choices that are dictated by government-imposed cuts). We have also spent a lot of time talking with nurses, nursing assistants and respiratory therapists, since we are in the midst of the raiding period.

At the beginning of this period, discussions were more reserved, more formal. As time goes, however, it has become easier to have worthwhile discussions with people about our concerns as well as prospects. Some findings:

  • Generally speaking, team work is valued by health-care professionals and they participate in it fully.
  • Young workers are playing a larger and larger role on teams. Contrary to public perception, these young professionals are full of enthusiasm. They are constantly seeking to implement best practices.
  • Again in relation to young workers, there are a number of departments in institutions across Québec where mandatory overtime is now the rule, not the exception. To quote a young nurse, "With mandatory overtime, the professional development courses required by my Order and the instability in the workplace resulting from the cuts and constant reorganizations, it's not at all certain that I will continue as a health-care professional until I retire. I see that things continue to deteriorate. As well, I would like to start a family - but not in these conditions...
  • There is serious concern about the impact of their work on patients.
  • They want their union to be able to consider both their professional concerns and their working conditions.
July is not the most conducive time for these kinds of discussions. People are thinking more about their vacations, if they have any. If they don't, they have to concentrate on getting their work done in short-staffed conditions during the summer. But since the FIQ decided that it wanted to raid us, and since the Labour Code stipulates a specific period of time for raiding, we have to tackle these discussions now.

I have to say that I was afraid debate would be impossible. In practice, though, I am increasingly seeing that this isn't true. Slowly but surely, we are beginning to be able to dialogue. As I had a chance to say in a previous blog, there are major differences between us and the FIQ. The choice of a union to represent personnel in Class 1 is more than an emotional choice. It's a choice about who you want to represent you, especially in upcoming negotiations. It is important to be able to make an informed choice. The willingness of health-care professionals to take discussions further and look at what the fundamental differences are will help them make that informed choice. It seems to me that this is what is crucial: knowing what the differences between the two organizations are in order to make an informed choice.

The FSSS-CSN offers major advantages for health-care professionals, be it in benefits for part-time employees or flexibility in insurance plans and union dues. But above and beyond these differences, there is a choice to be made about upcoming negotiations. We can cut ourselves off and try our luck negotiating on our own with the government, which is already announcing a hard-line approach to the next round of bargaining. Or we can advocate for our priorities while working with all the personnel in the system to thwart the government's plan to roll back everybody's working conditions.

In my opinion, this is the worst possible time to go along with the "divide-and-conquer" game. I am confident that if the dialogue continues, health-care professionals will be able to make an informed choice. Let's avoid bad-mouthing each other. Focus respectfully on our differences, so that professionals can may this choice with full knowledge of the facts. After all, the choice they face is not a trivial one.

So I hope that I, Nadine or a member of our team will have the opportunity for a serene discussion with you about this fundamental choice in the next few days.