Speech in support of HSW & CCA's

Dear Union members and Concerned Constituents: Last Friday my NDP colleagues did all we could in the House to try to convince the Liberals (who have a majority 33 members to our NDP's 7 members) not to vote in favour of Bill #30. Sadly we weren't able to change the Liberals' minds. Here's my speech in support of HSW & CCA's:

"The honourable member for Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River.

MS. LENORE ZANN « » : Mr. Speaker, firstly I would like to begin by saying that it's good to be back in Province House, on the floor of this beautiful Legislature which is really one of the gems in the crown of Nova Scotia's gorgeous, unique and valuable built heritage. However, I'm very saddened and, in fact, disappointed by the reason that we have been summarily recalled here today, in order for our new Liberal Government to introduce an anti-worker, anti-union bill, Bill No. 30, an Act to Ensure the Provision of Essential Home-support Services.

The reason I feel disappointed, Mr. Speaker, is because I, like the hundreds of women and men who are right now parading around this beautiful Legislature and some who are sitting in the balconies here today, the people who have taken the time to come down here today - I'm disappointed for them because I had hoped that this Premier was going to live up to his promise of being different, of doing things differently, of sticking to his word. In fact, a message from the Premier to the people of Nova Scotia, which he wrote in May 2013, just before the last election, in fact, just before he was elected Premier, it appeared to be written to appease people's fears of any possible heavy-handed behaviour that he might have if he was elected Premier, when it came to the hard-working people of this province who also happened to be members of Nova Scotia's union and, in fact, NSGEU members specifically

Mr. Speaker, I'd like to share the Premier's own words to remind him and all of us gathered here, exactly what it was he promised. Here's what the Premier wrote on May 27, 2013, on his Facebook page:

"I would like to clarify the misinformation being spread in an e-mail from the NSGEU that went out to their membership today. This email alludes to the Nova Scotia Liberal Party being against the right to strike - this is absolutely false.

My position on the right to strike has been clear. Our party supports the right to strike and will continue to do so.

The Pictou Bee (cited as the source of this rumour in the email from the NSGEU) is a partisan NDP blog, dedicated to discrediting the Liberal party and spreading false information.

This is an attack by Joan Jessome against me and our party. The email the NSGEU sent to their membership uses an anonymous, partisan blog and alludes to a position that our party is unequivocally against."

We will be working to share our TRUE position in SUPPORT of 'the right to strike' over coming days with members of the NSGEU and all Nova Scotians. I ask that you SHARE my post, and this information, with your networks in an effort to stall this baseless attack in its tracks. Thank you." (Applause)

Thank you very much. As you can see, today I am doing exactly as the Premier requested. I am sharing this post and the information with my networks, all of you who are present here today and those at home watching this on Legislative TV.

MR. SPEAKER « » : Order, please. I'd just like to remind the honourable member that she is not allowed to reference the guests in the gallery.

MS. ZANN « » : One home care worker actually wrote to me about this post on Facebook, which she too had seen. She asked, "Am I missing something here? Isn't this exactly what he is trying to do to us middle-class working poor that he promised to help? I know that you are very busy but thanks for taking the time to let me share my thoughts on this atrocity with you.

"She says:

The situation is very critical . . . I don't think the Liberals know how many critically ill clients we serve and care for. 'Home First' clients were recently added to VON and the demand for Nursing care by Home Support workers has been upped tremendously . . . for example: My first experience with a 'Home First' client was a man who was just released from Hospital after 'open heart surgery' and on Cathetar [sic] with family members who could not assist in cathetar [sic] care or personal care."

I have a client who is a double amputee and diabetic with fluctuating blood sugar levels 2-25!

Another 92 year old lady with dementia . . . who receives meals and med reminder. Without her med reminder, she would never take her pills. Please ask the Premier and all the rest of the Liberals and Conservatives what THEY think all these clients would do without the dedicated support of us lowly Home Support Workers.

We are all licenced CCA's with the same 1 yr NSCC program . . . for which we paid ourselves . . . and studied hard. We ALL had to pass the same Provincial Exam . . . needing 72 to pass. I passed at the top of my class with 92. I surprised myself! I love my job . . . it is my passion . . . but I am prepared to give up everything I have and relocate to Halifax to work in Nursing Home or Hospital where CCA's are already paid $2 more an hour with the same qualifications as myself. Both have their challenges . . . but I pay approx $900-$1100 a month to keep and maintain a car plus a back-up car in order to keep my job as that is a stipulation when hired - that we need to maintain a reliable vehicle. Thank you for passing this on so that perhaps it will give the Liberal MLAs a clearer understanding of what we actually do and why we deserve wage parity with others who do exactly the same work as we do!

I also received a letter to the current Premier from one of the workers who will be impacted by the legislation the Premier wants to pass, which seems very much like an about-face from his previous promising Facebook post. Let me share this letter:

My name is Beverly Ettinger Benoit and I am a CCA with the VON. I started my journey to become a CCA 7 years ago as a single mother of 3 children aged 7, 6 and 4.

When I started my CCA course in 2007 at the NSCC Waterfront campus I was working at a pool hall surviving on minimum wage, tips, $400/month from my ex husband and a student loan. My kids were in swimming lessons and they played soccer. I was travelling almost 100km every day just to get to school and work so that I could secure a better life for my family!! And I mean everyday [sic] . . . 7 days a week . . . Early mornings and late nights . . . Juggling schedules with my parents, sister, friends, co-workers and daycare provider.

They say it takes a community to raise a child . . . Well it's true. I was so tired that year I didn't know if I would survive. My mornings started at 5am sharp when I would get up, shower and dress. Then I would get all 3 kids up, dressed and out the door no later than 5:45 so that they could be dropped off at the daycare where God Bless . . . A good friend was waiting for them every morning with open arms and breakfast.

She would put my 2 oldest on the bus in the morning and would be waiting there to help them with their homework in the afternoon.

I had to make sure that on the afternoons when I had to go from school to work my Dad was going to be available to pick the kids up from daycare on his way home from work which put him 20km out of his way. There was not 1 single weekend in the 6 months that I was going to school that I got to stay home with my children because I was committed [sic] to work every weekend from 9-5 plus my travel time.

And if there were extra evening shifts available, boy, I had dibbs [sic] on them because I needed all the extra money I could get!!!

Our evenings were committed to homework, assignments, studying, getting lunches and clothes ready for the next day, baths, showers and snuggles . . . The nights when we were all home together that is . . . Some nights they had to stay at Nana and Grampies [sic] which they all loved. I even remember sleeping on the coach at the bar a few nights because it didn't make sense for me to drive for an hour home at 1:00 in the morning only to turn around and drive back in a few hours later. Sleep was at a premium!!! But I did it!!! I trudged through . . .

I graduated in one of the first CCA classes to go through the beautiful new Waterfront Campus with HONOURS!!!! Me . . . Beverly Ettinger with Honours!!! And for the cherry on top I pulled off 92% on my provincial exam!! I was so proud of myself!!! I have continued to learn more everyday [sic] since!!! I was so thankful for everyone who helped me along the way!!!

And you know what? It was all worth it!!! Every single bit!!! I truly do love my job!!!

I also know 99% of my fellow co-workers love their jobs too!!! Do you know how great it is to go to work every day and know that you are making a difference in peoples [sic] lives? And not only do we make a difference in their lives . . . they make as strong of an impact on our lives as well!!!

I worked for Northwood Manor for a year after I graduated and I loved it!!! The residents taught me so much about myself and about life and humility, compassion, saddness [sic], happiness, loss, caring, determination . . . The list could go on and on and it continues to grow everyday [sic] I am out in the field!!! These people gave me life lessons that I could never give back. I thank them for that!!!

One thing that will always stand out in my mind though is residents saying things like 'It's still not like home' or 'I used to have a beautiful Christmas tree.' It is very sad to look into someones [sic] eyes and know that their heart is somewhere else!!! The place where their lifetime of memories is kept!! The place where they raised their children!!! The place that holds the sun-faded lines in the wallpaper where your prize pictures hang. You know the ones . . . Little Lukie with his puppy in the mud, or Sally's graduation picture or the strange looking great grandad [sic] you never met . . . The place when you walk through that door and take a deep breath you know that you are home!!! Those notches in wood that mark the growth of your babies . . . And then their babies . . .

Before I continue with my story I have to note that the staff at Northwood Centre also helped me become a skilled, confident CCA - teaching me things that you can't learn in a classroom. Oh you may understand the theory but you never TRULY understand until you actually DO it. You know things like how to clean a residents [sic] stoma . . . and how to clean the feces out of the bag properly so it can be reused and reattached. Or how to bathe and lotion and powder a resident who has just been sent back from the hospital after having a massive stroke and is going to die soon . . . To holding the hand of that Alzeimers [sic] patient that is scared and needs to be comforted. You need to feel and have compassion for that person and for their soul to give them good care, so that they feel comfortable, safe and secure!!!

When you are working with men and women who have dedicated their lives to doing the things that we do on a daily basis it is really hard to measure their worth!!!

At any given institution whether it be a nursing home, a hospital, or private care facility you have multiple staffing support available. There are cleaners, laundry services, food services, nursing staff, security, physical therapists etc. . . .

But Home care . . . Now that is a totally different ballpark!!! You are being thrown into the unknown wilderness everyday [sic] . . . Multiple times every day actually!!!! Right from the very second that you pull out of your driveway . . . And hit that pavement . . . Until the time your tires once again hit the dirt of your own driveway when you're home for the night.

I never know what to expect when I walk through a clients [sic] door with home care. Did the client fall during the night when they were making their way through a dark house to go to the bathroom? Did the client miss or take too much medication that has affected their normal behaviour [sic] making the environment unsafe for myself? Is the client going to collapse while I'm assisting them with a shower? Is an estranged, violent family member suddenly going to be coming through the door drunk and high? Did someone sand the clients [sic] driveway after the freezing rain last night? Is the neighbours [sic] dog out? Is that big truck with the load of wood going to slow down when I go to pull into the clients [sic] driveway? Did the client or the last home support worker remember to take some meat out of the freezer to thaw for supper? These are daily routine questions that I have to worry and think about!!! So next question is what do you do if some of these questions don't have favourable answers? Well I deal with it!!! Me!!! Little 5ˈ 3 ̎ me . . . I have to take charge and make quick decisions . . . I might need to stand tall and mighty . . . I might need to dial 911 (if I can get to a phone) I might need to talk to someone through the door because they are laying down and they can't get up to let me in . . . I might need to make a meal out of nothing . . . I might need to make someone feel unashamed because they soiled themselves and they can't physically clean themselves up . . . I might have to grab the plunger and unclog that toilet and clean up the floor because it has already overflowed . . . I might need to get down on my hands and knees to find that tiny little white pill that Granny dropped on the floor . . . And she needs that pill because it keeps her gentle heart ticking . . .

So what happens when I and my co-workers are not in that home? Once daily? Twice maybe? Perhaps 3 times? Oh wait make that 4 because THAT client needs help to get tucked into bed.

Does blind Uncle Tom see that spilt water on the floor? I certainly hope so or it could mean another broken hip for him!!!

Who is going to suffer most if NSGE Local 35 goes on strike? Is it going to be the workers? No . . . Is it going to be the VON? No . . . Is it going to be Continuing Care or the Department of Health? No . . . It is going to be someone's loved one . . . maybe YOURS . . . maybe MINE, who is going to suffer the most and who is going to be put in the most danger.

Are we not worth Parity? And if you think not then I need you to explain it to me!!! I don't want any fluff about how hard-up our health care system is . . . I don't care that the funds are stretched . . . We do equal if not more work than the CCAs do in the hospitals . . .

We undeniably put ourselves into more danger on a daily basis. The simple fact is CCAs working out in the field are the whole package . . . plumber, chef, care provider, and sometimes the clients [sic] only support!!!!

Now who is the blame going to fall on when something tragic and avoidable happens? It is certainly not going to be placed on me or any of my fellow co-workers!!! All we want is Parity. We do not want to go on strike!!! There is a very strong feeling that we are worth equal pay for equal work!!! And if you think that we are essential care workers then pay us what we're worth.

Do not tell me that I went to school and have the same if not more skills than the CCAs that are working in the hospitals. Or that my co-worker who has been in the field for the last 23 years and has looked after and cared for a countless number of people is not worth more!!! Please do not insult us!!!

I am having a very hard time wrapping my head around the fact that the very government that I voted for not too many months ago is now fighting against me!!! I voted with confidence that the Government of Nova Scotia was going to move forward as they promised and improve our health care system.

Please do not take actions that would set the system back even further!!! ALL WE WANT IS PARITY. We deserve that!!! Your mother or father or handicapped brother or grandparents or maybe even your spouse or you yourself someday deserve the best there is to offer.

They need to know that they are receiving care from the best that there is!!! They need to know that the person who is walking into their house is going to provide them with qualified, skilled workers!!!

The simple fact of the matter is that one side of this debate is going to have to back down!! We know we are in the right and deserve parity so it is not going to be Local 35!!!

As a government I am holding you responsible for the outcome of this situation. As a voter and a tax payer [sic] I expect you to make the right decisions for the future of our health care system!! As a care provider, I am pleading for our clients [sic] safety. As a potential future client of the home care system, I am hoping for it's [sic] future.

If it takes a village to raise a child then it certainly makes sense that it will take a village to care for our elderly and our sick!! Thank you for your time!!!

Another friend wrote to me today:

Thanks for the support Lenore . . . we're going to need it! . . . I am home with a broken wrist which happened when I was crawling around on the ice trying to get into a clients [sic] home one cold icy night. I've had 4 injuries (two broken bones . . . back and wrist) in the last 4 years at work . . . as a home care giver. It is definitely a challenge to work in home support . . . but I do luv it! . . . Donna Bagnell.

This letter is from the husband of a home support worker:

Hey there! Started my day as usual reading the ChronicleHerald, first up: the Liberals [sic] view on the "About to STRIKE home care workers" and how they, the workers, should feel guilty about using their clients as "pawns" in the middle of negotiations for wages and better working conditions.

Well let it be said by me, I live with and see how hard these girls/guys work, and what they do and put up with from getting out in the dark hours of the morning to maneuver sometimes life threatening roads, only to get to an unplowed driveway and have to trudge through the snow and ice to make someones [sic] day, get them up, dressed, maybe wipe a bum and get fed. That is the start of a Good Day . . . it can go down hill [sic] at any time, working unsupervised, with sometimes mentally challenged clients, substance abuse clients and/or palliative care invalids - until bedtime hours for tuck-ins.

These workers beat their vehicles over the roads for a rate that barely pays for fuel, much less the car and costs of running it or pay for repairs should they get in an accident (not to mention get injured). Only to get home and deal with scheduling issues, pay-disruptions and other on-going sub-standard administrations [sic] issues which are not conducive to encouraging a positive employee/employer relationship and tenure.

That my Friends is a snapshot - still not the FULL MEAL DEAL of what these workers do. Yes, you nay Sayers [sic] can reply 'Well they chose this career'.

Sure they did - and the majority of these workers are giving, caring individuals . . . a special type of personality, much like nurses and other healthcare professionals (who are paid in accordance with their co-workers) and for this choice of career, they should be ALSO be [sic] paid and protected and treated as the VALUABLE EMPLOYEES they are.

Many of us are highly insulted and saddened to see the relation between the personal care workers and their clients used as leverage by the Premier's office and 'The Herald' as well as Mr. Bailey's [sic] office to use the word 'PAWN'.

Shame on ALL of you!

These Home Care Workers deserve to get paid just like any other professional and it was the Liberal and Conservative Governments of years past that closed nursing homes and turned beds to the private sector . . . These workers save this province millions by helping the elderly stay in their homes and maintain comfort and dignity.

If you stopped paying the carpenter building your house . . . Would you GUILT him into working for less by saying your family will be cold if the house isn't finished . . . I THINK NOT.

Now here we have what the Liberals are about to call 'essential service workers' making the same wage they were 5 or 6 yrs ago . . . COME ON DIG YOUR HEAD OUTTA THE SAND . . . BRING THE WORKERS UP TO WAGE PARITY. These people are valuable and they need to get paid just like the MLA's - after all you all get paid the same as your fellow MLA for doing the same job. Percentages are great if you can get them every year . . . BUT this is not about percentages, its [sic] about people. It's about the people who need care . . . and it's about the PEOPLE WHO CARE."

So as you can see from these letters and e-mails that I've been receiving, people are concerned and I don't blame them. I think they are doing equal work and I think they deserve equal pay and that's all they're asking. I find it very hard to believe that this new Liberal Government wants to stand in their way. In fact we received a CCPA - Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - release just yesterday in which they agree with our NDP position which they say is:

"When the Nova Scotia legislature reconvenes on Friday the government will introduce legislation to deal with the home support workers' strike that is set to begin on Friday. While we don't have the details of the legislation, we want to caution against interfering in the collective bargaining process in this way.

The legislation will impose a so-called 'essential services' provision that, to all intents and purposes, amounts to removing these workers' right to strike. If enough employees are forced to work, then a strike is rendered meaningless.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-NS has published several reports about the importance of free and fair collective bargaining that must include the right to strike. These are written by Judy and Larry Haiven, recognized experts in this area. Judy Haiven Associate Professor at Saint Mary's University warns: 'Collective bargaining is the most effective way of bringing crucial issues of patient care to the public's attention. Crippling the right to strike just shoves them back underground.'

Further, as Professor of Management at Saint Mary's University, Larry Haiven cautions: 'If there were a different way than free collective bargaining to achieve workplace justice, then we would have discovered it by now. By removing the strike threat, the government is saying to health care workers, we're not interested in your issues. Just put your heads down and don't complain.'

For many people, home support workers are what allow Nova Scotians to remain in their homes and out of expensive nursing homes or hospitals. The province can't afford to lose these workers. Indeed, it is critical that these workers are better supported in the work that they do and that others are encouraged to do this work. This is difficult work with high injury rates, and long hours. These workers might be entering eight different worksites in one day. Too many of these workers are without guaranteed hours and without full benefits. Home support workers are a critical part of the health care landscape in Nova Scotia and they deserve better at the bargaining table and beyond."

Mr. Speaker, I think it's fitting to introduce to some of our newcomers who are on the Liberal back bench, to the person who is making this decision, their Leader, the current Premier. On December 6, 2007 the Premier actually stood right here in the House of Assembly and he argued that the Progressive Conservative Government of the day was "playing politics with the careers and rights of thousands of health care workers in this province" by bringing in essential services legislation. The Premier pleaded with the Progressive Conservative Government to "cease their needless battle with Nova Scotia health care workers and focus on the real problems facing our health care system such as doctor and nurse shortages, wait times and ER closures.

I'd like to suggest that the Premier needs to take his own advice and perhaps his backbenchers can begin asking their Leader why he has had such an about-face. Believe me, as a backbencher myself for the first four years as MLA I never flinched once from asking my own Premier questions in caucus. That is why our constituents voted for us and sent us here in the first place, to represent their interests. It is not only our right as MLAs to ask questions, but I would argue it is our duty to ask questions, and difficult questions, especially if we disagree with something that our Leader is suggesting. Otherwise, what are we? If we're just yes-men or yes-women then we are not, I suggest, doing our jobs - seals, trained seals.

I've also discovered some more very interesting information in a couple of newspaper articles. One was written just four years ago on January 14, 2010 in The ChronicleHerald. The reporter, David Jackson, wrote, "Liberal Leader said Nova Scotia effectively has essential services legislation already because collective agreements require emergency services staffing plans." He also "thinks those plans should be hammered out in times of labour peace, not days before a possible strike."

I would argue he has known about the situation for what, over a week now? Why did he wait until today? Why did he wait until the workers had already gone on strike at 8:00 a.m. this morning? Why isn't he listening to his own advice? That was just four years ago.

He says, "(The government) should have been doing this in advance while there was labour stability. The legislation in other provinces has not stopped labour unrest and strikes." Again, why does he not listen to his own advice? Flip-flop, did I hear flip-flop? Yes, or the tide, the Bay of Fundy coming in and out a few times differently every day.

MR. SPEAKER « » : Order, please. I just want to remind the member for Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River that earlier, a couple of sentences ago, a reference to other members of this Assembly as trained seals. I just want to remind you that's an unparliamentary term for the Chamber. I'll get you to retract that if you could, please.

MS. ZANN « » : Thank you, yes. Trained seals - we'll retract that, Mr. Speaker.

Anyway, in the same article, the member for Colchester North - who was then the Interim Tory Leader - said she also didn't think that legislation was necessary, which was a change from the position that she had as part of the minority Tory Government that brought forward a law in 2007 that would have taken away the right to strike from health care workers and replaced it with arbitration. "That was what was deemed to be necessary at the time, but I would not suggest that we bring back that legislation." The member said that at this time in 2010.

One other article, Mr. Speaker - as far back as 2007, the current Premier was opposed to a no-strike proposal. This was on September 13, 2007, reported by David Jackson, a provincial reporter, and in that article the reporter said, "The MacDonald government's plan to take the right to strike away from health-care workers seems to have failed after the Liberals announced Wednesday they won't support it." In fact, David Jackson reported that the Liberals not only opposed it but that the Liberal leader "said his caucus has heard from people on all sides of the issue and that removing the right to strike isn't the solution to problems in the health system. 'We do not believe such legislation will provide stability within the health-care system, as the government is suggesting'" - this is what the Liberal Leader said during a news conference at Province House - "'In fact, we believe that the proposed cure is worse than the disease.'"

In closing, I would like to suggest that I would reflect this back, because I also believe that the proposed cure here is worse than the disease. Please reconsider and give these wonderful workers, these hard-working people, this middle class that Liberals keep saying that they care so much about - but many of these middle-class people are slipping into the working poor. They need our help, and I would suggest that all of us in this House - that's why we were voted in, to try to help these people. So, Mr. Speaker, on that note I would like to close. I wish all the workers best of luck in these negotiations, and I hope that they get the parity that they deserve. Thank you

Lenore Zann, MLA
Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River
35 Commercial Street, Suite 212
Truro, Nova Scotia B2N 3H9