Northumberland County workers fighting proposed changes to STD leave

The union representing 33 employees of the Northumberland County social services department says the county is attempting to weaken employees’ short-term disability leave and remove their right to work a compressed workweek.

On Dec. 12, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3725 began contract negotiations with the county using a provincially appointed conciliator. Union members — who are county employees in income support, housing, childcare and outreach — have been working since Sept. 30 without a contract.

Jaime Bingham, president of Local 3725, says a second day of conciliation will be scheduled for the new year.

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Currently, union members have a short-term disability plan that provides employees with 17 weeks of sick leave paid at 100 per cent of their salary. Northumberland County is seeking to remove that provision and replace it with three days of fully paid leave, with the remainder of an employee’s leave paid at 75 per cent.

“We have an aging workforce, so . . . more and more of our workers are going off [to have] necessary surgeries,” said Bingham. “Reducing [the STD leave] to 75 per cent means you may refuse a surgery because you financially can’t do it.” 

Northumberland County is also seeking to remove the 28 hours per year employees have to use for medical and non-medical appointments within the workday, which are part of the STD leave provisions.

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The county is also looking to eliminate employees’ ability to work a compressed workweek. Currently, half the office has Mondays off and the other half takes Fridays off. And they work from 8 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. with a half-hour lunch every day to make up the time.

Bingham says the demographics of the union’s members skew overwhelmingly female and the flexible scheduling allows them to manage family commitments. “As mainly female employees, we’re the caretakers of our family and we use the compressed workweek to [go to] appointments for our . . . parents and children and spouses,” she says. “They seem to be attacking the female-ness of the workforce.”

Members gave the bargaining committee a 100 per cent strike mandate, though the union hasn’t set a strike or lockout deadline.

Northumberland County did not respond to Benefits Canada‘s request for comment.

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