The upheaval of Canadian society at the hands of COVID-19 is obvious to all of us by now and difficult to overstate. Socially and economically, Canadian society is being stretched beyond what we once thought were our limits. These sudden and difficult changes have struck us all in different ways at different times. There has been no shortage of fear and anxiety. Yet I have also been inspired by the courage and generosity displayed in both grand and ordinary gestures over the past month.
From doctors and personal support workers to grocery store clerks and truck drivers, our friends and neighbours who carry on as best they can to deliver the essentials of life have my most sincere gratitude. Among those workers was a 58-year-old cleaner at Brampton Civic Hospital who died of COVID-19. I will be standing in solidarity with him, his family and all hospital workers at 11am tomorrow and I invite all members to join me from wherever you are working.
Many Society members are among those essential workers who have to travel to job sites. They are in control rooms, keeping our nuclear plants safe, and making sure transmission and distribution wires move electricity safely throughout the province. I know I speak for every member when I say that we are grateful for the sacrifices you are making so the rest of us can stay home.
Before the full shutdown came into effect, your Society leadership knew that we were not going to be able to continue as though it was business as usual. The week of March 8, we prepared for a full office closure effective March 13. Accommodations were made so all elected leaders and staff would work-from-home and carry on the business of running our union. We acquired phone- and video-conferencing services that allow us to continue our formal meetings like Executive Board as well as the informal day-to-day meetings that keep our internal gears turning. While we have learned some lessons along the way, that transition has been as smooth as I hoped. These services have also allowed us to continue working to resolve grievances and provide all of our usual representation services to members. One casualty, however, has been our spring and summer training workshops. All in-person training will be rescheduled for the fall. I want to thank our staff in particular for their full cooperation in these challenging circumstances.
According to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s April 9 comments, it appears that Canada is likely to be grappling with this first wave of COVID-19 through the end of the summer. It is quite possible that the extraordinary physical distancing measures in place now will continue until that time. This is difficult on all of us but I am acutely aware of the challenges faced by members who have acute and chronic mental and physical health conditions they are grappling with, members trying to juggle work, childcare and their kids’ education, members who have unsafe homes due to domestic violence, members with addiction issues, and members who live in smaller spaces without easy access to outdoor space. There are no easy solutions to these challenges you are facing but I want to remind you of the resources available to you in your collective agreement, including the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) available to members of most locals through your benefits provider. In some areas of the province, you may have access to a 211 telephone service to connect you with relevant social service providers.
While the pandemic has wrought havoc on all parts of our lives, to date not a single permanent Society member has suffered a layoff due to COVID-19. As the country reports more than 1 million job losses, that alone makes us among the most fortunate. In recognition of our relative prosperity, the Society answered calls to support emergency support services like food banks. We donated more than $50,000 to community services from Toronto to Thunder Bay. If your family is able, I encourage you to join me in making personal donations, too. Another way you can contribute is by filling out the Statistics Canada survey on how COVID-19 is affecting you so the government can make informed decisions.
Finally, I want to encourage you to continue following public health officials’ forceful advice to stay home whenever possible and take all appropriate precautions. These are difficult times but our collective efforts have begun bending the curve in the right direction. We must not let up now.
Wishing you and yours health and perseverance,