Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

IN FOR THE LONG HAUL – Larissa Korns, Kim Rogers and Brandon Murdoch (left to right) discuss the ongoing labour dispute at Many Rivers Counselling and Support Ser- vices on Tuesday.

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

DISPUTE CONTINUES – The picket line outside Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services’ premises on Fourth Avenue is seen this morning.

Many Rivers workers vow to stand firm

After spending seven weeks on the picket line, staff at Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services maintain they will remain firm in their demands in light of a response from a negotiator representing their employer a couple of days ago.

By Palak Mangat on December 19, 2018

After spending seven weeks on the picket line, staff at Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services maintain they will remain firm in their demands in light of a response from a negotiator representing their employer a couple of days ago.

But that response did not work to put any of their concerns to bed, with some calling it disgusting and disrespectful given there was no apparent indication the employer is willing to budge, said some workers.

“Days before Christmas, we get a reply that is really a non-reply,” Steve Geick, president of the Yukon Employees’ Union (YEU), told the media late Tuesday morning. The YEU represents the workers.

Some gathered at a news conference estimated there are “under 20” staff members who are impacted by the strike in Whitehorse.

That number would rise given that there are sites in not just the downtown core but Haines Junction, Dawson City and Watson Lake.

“Even if we said, ‘yeah, let’s talk, maybe we can move,’ which we can’t, he knows damn well we wouldn’t get back to the table until sometime in January at least,” Geick said. He was referencing Many Rivers’ executive director, Brent Ramsay.

Ramsay has not returned the Star’s calls nor emails seeking comment on the labour dispute since it began in early November.

That wasn’t the only naming of names by those gathered Tuesday.

Three representatives were on hand to share their thoughts on the response received just days ago: Kim Rogers, Brandon Murdoch and Larissa Korns.

In the organization’s annual report for 2017-2018, all three are listed as generalist counsellors in Whitehorse.

Murdoch serves as president of the local Y031, and all three added they sit on the bargaining team.

Collectively, they took aim at members serving on the board, reading at times parts from a letter sent to the team by the negotiator.

The workers are asking for the freedom to schedule themselves, something Korns said the board is concerned could impact intake and overtime costs.

But that’s not so, she said: “we’re not asking for much.”

Flexibility will allow workers to “be prepared when we see our clients instead of walking in with them at 9 a.m., and so at the end of the day we have time for paperwork and spend a few extra minutes with a client who needs it.”

She added she doesn’t suspect that could impact the hours per workday and it is not complex.

“The only impact it has on business is it improves services for our clients.”

Rogers chimed in, adding that “for now, I believe the message to the union is unchanged.”

That was her response to when the letter she read from referenced that the employer would continue to consider the workers’ position and any solution which may present itself.

Newer solutions may not be likely, given that it has seen more than year-long negotiations take place, Rogers said.

“There’s nowhere else really for us to go,” she said. Doing so would be “short of rescinding completely the points that are most important to us,” she added.

One of those, Murdoch later said, is asking for a 1.5 per cent increase in payscale, which she called “not severe.”

Rogers added that the strike “also speaks to the fact that our message to our clients remains unchanged as well, it’s not acceptable.”

The group explained that it has been working to let people know that services like the outreach van is no longer run by Many Rivers.

“In terms of those people out there on the streets, I hope they’re getting by with the resources they have,” Korns said.

For her part, Murdoch pointed to the organization’s vision statement as referenced in its annual report, which adds it is “healthy individuals and families living in supportive communities,” with the group existing to help create “healthy positive, resilient individuals” and family relationships.

“Why is it that’s what our job is, but we’re unwilling to do that for our staff?” Murdoch asked. She explained that workers have often leaned on one another for support during the strike, rather than its board.

“But we shouldn’t have to because we should have a clinical supervisor in town to be able to support us within the building.”

That was perhaps in reference to Mary DeVan, who is listed as the director of clinical services at Many Rivers.

The annual report notes she held more than 200 clinic supervision sessions through Skype and was onsite once every quarter (so four times a year).

“I think it’s fairly rare to have a clinical supervisor who’s not only not present on site but is out of the territory,” Korns said, explaining that there is also a consultant who works from the U.S.

According to the organization’s webpage, that consulting psychologist is based out of California and offers periodic consultation to the outreach van.

“This is perplexing, why we require someone so far away to work with us and how that connects to life in the Yukon,” Korns said, adding she hopes to speak about this and financial transparency with the board.

She added that the role of a clinical supervisor is to help with ethical responsibilities, case management and professional development.

Murdoch furthered that having care closer to home would be easier logistically as well.

“We should be able to, when we have a client that is in crisis and talking about suicide, we (should be) able to contact our supervisor when we need to.”

She criticized Marina Bailey, listed as the board’s president in the report. Bailey is quoted as saying the group helps navigate challenges faced by people by “connecting them with their inner strength and community of support.”

Nodding, Murdoch said “that’s absolutely what we do, but what we’re asking for is the same kindness that is afforded to our clients for ourselves.”

Meanwhile, the organization is also in hot water with the Yukon government. YG provided a contribution as part of an agreement of $1.9 million in 2016 and $2 million for both 2017 and 2018 (as per annual reports posted to its webpage).

Rogers said she was happy to see the investigation put forward by YG, a sign of the response being “proactive.

“The response we got from the employer (via the negotiator), nothing seems forthcoming from that end. Maybe it’s going to have to resort from happening from above,” she said.

For its part, as the Star reported Monday, YG has said it is not involved in the ongoing negotiations between workers and staff at Many Rivers, but the concerns that had been brought about its status as a society were passed on and an investigation is active.

That was after Community Services Minister John Streicker, whose department oversees the Societies Act, confirmed in early November that the group had been listed as in breach of the act because it did not provide financial statements and annual reporting documents. Those were supposed to have been submitted to the Registrar of Societies as of last July.

The YEU said it will continue to fully support striking workers, and has the manpower of its parent organization, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).

The union noted in its release that a couple of board members have also resigned.

Tuesday’s event was more than just a press conference. Open to the public, it saw Yukon NDP Leader Liz Hanson and Justin Lemphers, the Yukon Federation of Labour (YFL) president, attend too, along with other members of the public.

Hanson has been vocal in her support for the striking staff. Lemphers explained that the YFL has been promoting the situation with striking workers.

Adding that the federation will have a council meeting in the new year, Lemphers said any proposal brought forward from striking workers or YEU or affiliate members “on how to address this at a political level in the public or media, that can be brought forward in that January meeting.”

See letter.

Comments (18)

Up 3 Down 1

Thought Criminal on Dec 24, 2018 at 8:24 pm

@ Roy - YukonRC wrote that you should get “information before making judgments”. Perhaps YukonRC unintentionally omitted the qualifier “good”. Good information is what one should have. Perhaps you were a defence lawyer before the Yukon Bar in another life? Just say anything...

Just because something is in writing or someone tells you something does not make it truthful or even true. Perhaps the best that we can hope for is that the information was true at the time the formation of belief came into being. But even this should be suspect as all human thought and behaviour is motivated - most often to self-deception. Question everything like you are three again but filter the information with an adult mind intent on understanding.

You do this by seeking the alternative. Why is my belief untrue? It is untrue because human behaviour is infinitely complex.

Up 10 Down 4

CJ on Dec 24, 2018 at 12:17 pm

@Roy, Nothing in what you posted contradicts what Yukon RC said. It looks like Many Rivers outsourced it. Or Many Rivers is just answering phones for someone else.

That Many Rivers is following in the shoes of Morneau Shepell is making this look like an extraordinary situation. Morneau Shepell is a publicly traded company with 4,300 employees. I'm not super smart so I don't know what it means, except that the employee assistance program is going through several layers of administration, according to what you quoted there.

It's about time the story turned to the management and what their focus has been. They haven't had a contract for two years. Their supervisor doesn't live here. These people have been on strike for several weeks and management hasn't said a word in public or apparently to the union. What do you think they were like when there wasn't a strike action? Yet they have an important YTG contract and they're a non-profit that we're supporting.

For some reason, management and the board of directors have been allowed to remain incommunicado for seven weeks -- helped, no doubt, by the attitude that's expressed by some here and people like that fellow who complained about the "noise". That's really unacceptable.

Up 4 Down 6

Roy on Dec 23, 2018 at 9:35 am

FYI YukonRC - I did get information. I specifically went looking for an answer BEFORE I posted what I did because I didn't want my theory to be completely baseless. And since I went directly to the place that should have the best information, I'll believe it before I believe you.
From the YG website http://www.psc.gov.yk.ca/efap.html (which is what comes up when you google 'YG EAP'):

"NOTE: On April 1, the contract for delivering the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) moved to a new provider. FSEAP has taken over service delivery from Morneau Shepell. Services in the Yukon are coordinated and delivered by Many Rivers Counselling & Support Society, an fseap network member."

Notice "....AND DELIVERED BY..."
And further down the page: "The 1-800 number will go directly to fseap in Vancouver. The 867 number will go to Many Rivers during regular business hours."

Maybe next time if you're going to deliver a judgmental statement about someone not doing research before posting, maybe tell us all where you get YOUR information.

Up 10 Down 3

ProScience Greenie on Dec 23, 2018 at 6:41 am

Simple solution is for YG to hire the MR councilors and get them back working doing the good work they do. Then fire MR management and dissolve the organization. Then it's time for YG to look at the bloat and waste that is occurring within the near endless number of NGOs and charities operating under the Societies Act and somehow get that under control.

Up 7 Down 4

Yukonblonde on Dec 22, 2018 at 3:26 pm

Minister Frost please take over Many Rivers. The executive needs to go (and not to a cushy YG director job. They can just go).

Up 12 Down 3

YukoneRC on Dec 21, 2018 at 9:06 pm

FYI - the EAP program is running. The Many Rivers counsellors do not provide that service. The Executive Director and a Vancouver company hired counsellors NOT working from Many Rivers to do this work. Many Rivers only COORDINATES the service. Therefore, it is not impacting the YG employees and NOT holding them hostage.
Get information before making judgments.

Up 4 Down 1

Groucho d'North on Dec 21, 2018 at 8:32 am

@Gith

So that's a yes?

Up 5 Down 6

jack on Dec 20, 2018 at 10:31 pm

@ North_of_60 Exactly what measures? Oh, They need more evaluation, issue their cheque for the month. Will reassess again next month. Numbers game pure and simple.

Up 15 Down 15

Roy on Dec 20, 2018 at 5:59 pm

I'm kind of annoyed that they got the Employee Assistance Program contract from YG, and then went on strike. I wonder if they planned it that way all along, to get the employees on their side, since they are now essentially holding the mental well-being of all YG employees hostage.

Up 28 Down 11

CJ on Dec 20, 2018 at 2:42 pm

Why criticize the staff that's on strike, when the executive director continues to collect his salary and the board of directors is able to go on as usual, while evading their responsibilities. Since negotiating contracts and managing staff so they don't feel the need to walk out is presumably part of their job. What are they doing there without staff?

It's curious that people are so willing to let them off the hook. I guess it pays not to stick your neck out. Literally.

Up 24 Down 15

North_of_60 on Dec 20, 2018 at 2:34 pm

Is there a measure of any success these organizations achieve? Are people 'cured' of their afflictions and carry on with personally responsible productive lives? It appears that these organizations mostly create and maintain an ever growing population of perennial victims who will always need support services for the rest of their lives. We should be asking if these 'NGO' groups are a worthwhile expenditure of tax resources.

Up 19 Down 20

Losing credibility by the minute on Dec 20, 2018 at 12:51 pm

So, the next time I go to Many Rivers to talk to a counsellor about not able to get what I want - and isn't that fundamental to the issues we get counselling for - how do these people propose to help me, since they don't seem to be able to achieve getting what they want without union help, a lot of noise and a lot of how hard done by they are. Many of us do not have a union to whine to, and battle for us.

Up 17 Down 16

Jonathan Colby on Dec 20, 2018 at 9:05 am

Barbaric tactics?

Direct action gets the goods. Secondary pickets, IMO, don't go far enough...

Up 20 Down 16

jake on Dec 20, 2018 at 8:00 am

Shut it all down!

Up 16 Down 11

Gith on Dec 20, 2018 at 4:49 am

@Groucho d'North

Lots of organizations, private and NGO, provide services to YG. They are not bound by YG labour contracts.
Agree that wages and benefits should approximate government labour contracts. In my humble opinion, wages at Many Rivers, for instance, should be comparable to equivalent HSS positions, instead of the roughly 10% disparity suffered by MR counselors.

Up 21 Down 15

Rural Resident on Dec 19, 2018 at 5:33 pm

The strikers are there because they want improved working conditions.
It must be very hard to be on the strike line day after day in the wind and the cold. Management should give a little it's the 21st century.

Up 13 Down 11

Groucho d'North on Dec 19, 2018 at 4:00 pm

I find it odd that these discussions and negotiations are occuring outside of the purview of the department of HSS or even PSC. Terms of service, wages and benefits are the issues on the table for an NGO that delivers these services under contract to the government. Government already has these issues solved in their various labour agreements, or is that what this whole strike is really about?

Up 34 Down 20

Bo Levi on Dec 19, 2018 at 3:38 pm

You plan and execute a secondary strike in front of one the boards residence. May be a long time before you settle anything with barbaric tactics from the 70’s.

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