by Phil Ambroziak

Any wounds suffered during the lengthy contract dispute between the Prairie North Regional Health Authority and clinic workers in Meadow Lake are finally beginning to heal.

Earlier this week, a five-year collective agreement between the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations Inc. and the Service Employees International Union-West was ratified by PNRHA officials and employees of the Meadow Lake Primary Health Care Centre.

“We’re very pleased we could reach an agreement,” Vikki Smart, PNRHA’s vice-president of primary health services, told Northern Pride in a recent interview. “We have 21 employees at the Meadow Lake clinic and we value each and every one of them, and what they bring to the table. This is very positive in terms of moving forward.”

Earlier this year, clinic staff were on the verge of strike action because they’d been working without a collective agreement since 2013. The new agreement is retroactive to May 1 of that year and will remain in effect until March 31, 2018. It includes a $250 lump sum payment in year one, two and three, a 1.95 per cent increase in year four. Year five will be consistent with the monetary terms achieved for the SAHO/SEIU-West collective bargaining agreement for the similar time period. Meanwhile, a major sticking point with workers was the fact, even though they’re employed in the health care industry, they did not have access to their own health care benefits.

“We have also reached an agreement on benefits, which is very comparable to what’s offered to other PNRHA employees,” Smart continued.

The union is also happy to have finalized a deal.

“On behalf of the members, I can say there is a great sense of relief to finally reach an agreement,” remarked Barbara Cape, president of SEIU-West. “It was a very long process, but – even though we’ve seen lengthy negotiations in the past involving the entire health care system – I never suspected it would take as long as it did. The important thing is, this has been settled and the full focus can now be placed on providing quality health care to Meadow Lake.”

Cape said the agreement brings a certain level of fairness and equity.

“The deal assures these workers, who are all women, will receive benefits, a signing bonus and regular wage increments that are linked to health care sector bargaining going forward,” Cape noted. “We thank the people of Meadow Lake for their support over the past few months. The three-year journey for these workers has been long, but has finally been settled due in no small part to the support and solidarity of the community.”

Meanwhile, Smart commended the clinic workers for upholding a strong level of professionalism while negotiations were ongoing.

“The clinic team continued to be there for the public and continued on as they always had before, even while bargaining was taking place,” she said. “Still, it’s very nice to finally have this agreement signed.”