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How Society locals are adapting to COVID-19

April 16, 2020

Each of the Society of United Professionals' Local Vice Presidents was asked to provide a brief update on how their local and members have been impacted by COVID-19 at work. Their responses have been lightly edited.

 

Ontario Power Generation Local

The vast majority of OPG office staff are working from home. A rush of more than 6,000 requests for VPN access and laptops was met by OPG's information technology service provider, New Horizon, in fairly quick order so people have the basic tools to work from home. 

About one-third (3,000) OPG employees are still in the plants working as their work is required to return units from outages or to run the existing units to produce over half of the electricity the province needs.

OPG has demobilized all non-essential work, including the start of the Darlington Unit 3 refurbishment project. That project is now expected to start in fall 2020.  This has affected about 1,000 contract workers.

The local is now having its normal meetings with management via telephone. Grievances are continuing
to move through the normal process. However, arbitrations are not occurring until physical distancing requirements are lifted so there may be some delay to arbitrations.

OPG employees are encouraged to reach out to their Unit Directors or LVP with any questions. OPG members are also reminded that they have access to the Morneau Shepell employee and family assistance program should they need it.

 

Independent Electricity System Operator Local

Most employees have been working from home since March 13, 2020 and the transition appears to be going as smoothly as one could hope for. The Local is appreciative of those employees from all jurisdictions (Society, PWU and management) who are still required to go into the office. 

Management has been highly communicative since the COVID-19 outbreak and their messaging has been supportive, compassionate and pragmatic.  However, as this goes on we can expect that some tough decisions will have to be made regarding certain work programs.

It appears energy-sector employers are talking amongst themselves.  Yesterday, management sent out a message to IESO employees requesting that they "please take vacation." That email was framed within the context of health and wellness and made taking vacation employees’ choice. However, we are concerned that management may take a more direct approach to employee vacation. 

Members are encouraged to make use of the services available to them through their benefits, including the Employee Assistance Program.  Management also retained Maple, which allows for online medical consultations if you require it. 

 

Bruce Power Local

Bruce Power workers from all jurisdictions continue to do the essential work to generate 30% of Ontario’s electricity. 

Most members are now working remotely to keep themselves and the company safe. However, many members continue to be in the workplace playing key roles in conventional and nuclear safety, supervision, IT and Technical/Engineering.

The Bruce Power Local is working hard to address a multitude of member-specific issues due to remote working arrangements, as well as health and safety implications of COVID-19 for essential workers whose presence is required in the workplace. Key arbitrations are still scheduled to be heard in April and May via remote video conference.

COVID-19 support is also available through the Employee and Family Assistance Program and Employee Wellness (shout out to Society-represented occupational health nurses).

Your Society representatives are available and working to deal with member issues and concerns throughout these difficult times. Members are encouraged to reach out to Delegates and Unit Directors if they need assistance.

Locally, the Society has made $10,000 donations to each of the Port Elgin and Kincardine food banks. The Local encourages members to personally help out the food banks as the need is great for the many workers currently without work and paychecks. 

 

Hydro One Local

Eighty-six percent of Society members at Hydro One are working from home during the pandemic. Local Vice President Vicki Power has been having daily calls with the employer and through that has been able to resolve issues quickly on behalf of members. Additionally, the employer is holding bi-weekly calls with all employees to keep employees updated.

The Hydro One Local recently distributed its bargaining survey to members to determine members’ priorities for the coming round of collective agreement renewal negotiations.

With former Local Vice President Jim Botari’s retirement and Vicki Power’s election to the role, Delegate Jenny Qin has been appointed to fill Power’s former Unit Director role until an election is held.

 

Legal Aid Ontario Lawyers Local

All Society members are working remotely and the employer has been very flexible with childcare workarounds to enable members to work when and how they can under the circumstances.

The local’s primary concern looking forward is related to funding. A significant part of LAO funding comes from the Law Foundation of Ontario, which generates the money through interest paid on money held by lawyers for real estate transactions. The economic implications of COVID-19 appear to mean that Legal Aid Ontario will be short about $40 million in funding, which is greater than 10% of the agency’s annual budget. LAO was already having difficulty funding its services after the provincial government slashed its budget by 30% in 2019.

At the start of the outbreak, the LAO Local had major health and safety issues. Those have now been addressed and the local continues to advocate for the needs of the vulnerable clients its members serve.

LAO Local members are grateful to the Society’s leadership and staff for their support throughout these challenging times.

 

Ontario Energy Board Local

All OEB bargaining unit members are now working from home with limited entrance to the office permitted for some IT staff. 

The member meeting that was scheduled for April 14 is postponed. The local is working on having smaller member meetings with different groups by video conference and distributing a newsletter. Members are encouraged to send questions to their delegate, or Susi Ahlborn or Annette Altounian.

The OEB Employee Assistance Program is always available to members through Morneau Sheppell. Contact information is on the bottom of the Intranet site homepage.

 

National Judicial Institute Local

National Judicial Institute Local members have been working from home. The organization has implemented a series of accommodations to encourage a healthy work-life balance and recognize childcare obligations. In weekly staff meetings, NJI provides employees with an anonymous “Ask Me Anything” tool that can be used to ensure staff are comfortable requesting the information they need.

NJI is also offering its staff up to $500 to equip their home office, providing a $50 per month payment for home internet service, and offering a $500 advance that would be repaid interest-free over 10 pay periods.

Members are encouraged to access the Employee Assistance Program as needed.

 

Toronto Hydro Engineers and IT Locals

While all Society-represented employees are working from home during the COVID-19 outbreak, many Toronto Hydro employees must attend the workplace and the Locals thank them for their service.

All employees have access to an online health care service called Akira. Akira offers mental health as well as medical support, including COVID-19-related issues. Supports are also available through the normal Employee Assistance Program.

Click here for an update on both locals’ efforts to negotiate their collective agreements.

 

New Horizon System Solutions Local

The Local asked early in 2020 if the employer had a pandemic and continuity plan in place. The response was lukewarm in the beginning and it was found during regular union-management meetings that the infrastructure for allowing remote computer access was insufficient. This lack of preparation caused the company to rush to get the infrastructure for remote access in place to allow members to work from home.

Individuals showing symptoms of COVID-19 infection are required by law to self-isolate. However, the Local was concerned that the employer was vague in their process of screening and reporting employees showing signs of illness. Immunocompromised members expressed particular concern for their health given the potential for virus transmission in the workplace. The Local continues to find it challenging to get the employer to establish clear and medically appropriate policies and procedures to ensure the safety of all members.

 

Nuclear Waste Management Organization Local

All NWMO staff, including those located at remote offices, are working from home. Technology had already been rolled out to staff prior to the work-from-home decision. Technology provided to employees includes laptop with VPN access, Microsoft Teams and RingCentral, which is an application that simulates desk phones. NWMO also facilitated office supplies and equipment procurement to enable employees to safely and effectively work from home office. 

A Letter of Understanding between the Society and employer on Purchased Services was finalized during the the work-from-home period.

Members are encouraged to use the NWMO Employee and Family Assistance Program as needed, and to access the Sun Life web site for ongoing support and health information.


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