We are not working from home.
We are at home, during a crisis, trying to work.
This quote was sent from a member highlighting the serious issue of maintaining mental health while trying to do your job, under great stress, from home. Try your best, but go easy on yourself, your co-workers and your supervisor, too. These are difficult times – a prolonged crisis with no end in site. We all adjust at different speeds and cope in different ways.
You may find tasks are taking much longer without your usual technology and office resources. You may feel inadequate, and under pressure to work longer hours. You miss your co-workers and students. You may have young (or older) children who demand and need your attention while you struggle to meet deadlines or attend video conferences. You may be suffering from prolonged anxiety, afraid of losing your job, or getting sick, or losing your grandmother or a child with a serious underlying disability. You may be missing the activities and relationships that filled your life with meaning and joy.
You are not expected to be 100% right now.
Nor should you expect others, including our students, to be 100%.
Last night, a 51-year-old man killed 18 people in rural Nova Scotia, and my first thought was that there may finally be something else on the News besides Covid 19. This is not a healthy reaction. We start each morning with the Health Canada stats on cases, much like children of war, waking up to reports of whom from the neighbourhood has been killed overnight. We are living in ways we have never imagined, our normal lives suddenly and perhaps forever, changed. If this is grief and loss we are experiencing, as many mental health experts have suggested, then this is perhaps the longest “shock and numb” stage ever.
There are positives. The kindness of strangers and safety improvements each time you go for groceries. Solidarity always provides a sense of security in chaos. The growing graph lines are still going up, but flattening. Physical distancing measures are definitely working. You can still buy toilet paper. Our employer has continued to pay us, even if we are not working. Nobody has been called into an HR meeting to discuss performance or excessive trips to the kitchen. In most part, expectations have been individualized and fair. President Agnew is still in his office, in a suit and tie, but he is letting his hair down.
If you are feeling too pressured and it is effecting your stress levels or health, reach out to your supervisor, steward or a Local Officer. You have the right to a healthy and safe workplace, even if you are at home. You can find your steward on our App or our website: opseu561.org. If you are full-time, don’t be afraid to reach out to the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EAP) for confidential advice and help with any personal or mental health issues, at 844-880-9142. They are very good, free, and nobody will know you called. You will not be told your call is not urgent enough. It is likely more urgent than you think.
Respect your down time. Work your hours per day, but also rest and refresh. It may be tempting to keep working while you watch TV after dinner, but use that energy instead on something that brings you joy or peace around your home. Call a friend or family member who is isolated. Or find interesting ways to replace the forced exercise you usually get, walking to the mail room. You will find that these proper breaks make you that much more productive when you return to Seneca@Home. Don’t be the person who says, “When I was home for Covid, I should have…”
Don’t kill yourself trying to prove you cannot be replaced. You can be replaced. If you find you have too much to complete in the given time, let your supervisor know. Only work overtime if it is authorized in advance. Speak to your co-workers and analyze your tasks to see what is taking longest. Brainstorm solutions. Perhaps there are tasks slowing you down that could easily be done by someone else – someone who currently does not have work they can do from home.
Currently, all supervisors have been asked to report to HR on the transferable skills of their employees. The College has begun the process of assigning extra work to employees who have nothing they can do from their homes for their own department. If you have not yet provided an up-to-date resume to your supervisor, please do. If you have too much work, or projects that would benefit efficiency that you have no time to start, now is the time to bring these to your manager’s attention.
You also have the right to physical Health and Safety. Did you know that the top of your computer screen should be level with the bridge of your nose to avoid repetitive strain neck injuries? The College has been offering mini-workshops on ergonomics and will be adding more soon. Check the Leadership and Employee Development site for more details at: https://inside.senecacollege.ca. In addition, our health and safety Committees will be meeting this week and next to discuss how we can inspect all of your houses (just kidding), and provide access to ergonomic furniture where needed.
One day, this will be a distant memory. Some changes will stay. Maybe in future, employees with runny noses will always work from home. Maybe we will all find productive ways to work from home more often, travel less, and solve the Climate Change issues at the same time. Perhaps this is the “short sickness” that will guarantee us a “long life”. But for now, knowthis New Normal will continue for months, not weeks. Pace yourself, and take care.
Time Sheets for Part-Time
All Part-Time employees who were not told otherwise, were to have completed their time sheets with their normal hours from the Week Before Covid (March 8-14), or their last normal week if they were sick that week. There are exceptions this week. There were 125 casual, temporary or student part-time employees who would not have been guaranteed hours the last two weeks, who have been told that March 16th was their last pay. However, if your job involved an expectation of hours every week, then you are still being paid.
Covid Job Security by the Numbers
Number of Support Staff on Payroll Before Covid
583 Full-Time Employees
1,171 Part-Time Employees
– 210 Regular Part-Time
– 507 Student Part-Time
– 108 Temporary Part-Time
– 342 Casual Part-Time
Layoffs of Student, Temporary or Casual Part-Time
125 No longer being paid after April 4th
412 Contracts ending by Apr. 18
450 Contracts ending by May 3rd
The temporary layoff of over 900 part-time support staff is unprecedented in Seneca’s history, a shock numbed only by our social distance from one another. Let us all take a 5-minute break around 12 Noon, Wednesday morning, to imagine being in the offices, halls and lunch rooms of your campus, hearing that 900+ part-time employees are being laid off. Imagine their faces, their tears, and make sure you feel this and mourn. Call a co-worker to ask how they are doing.
Although we had no language guaranteeing continued pay for ANY Support Staff, full-time or part-time during this crisis, we must also take a moment to be grateful that Seneca honoured employment contracts for the most vulnerable of our members, even after the Covid shut-down was clearly going to be more than three weeks. At a time when other Colleges were seeking legal opinions over laying people off without negotiated notice periods, Seneca has taken the high road.
Layoffs of Regular Part-Time
0 Covid-Related Layoffs
5 RPT workers notified of layoff due to pre-planned closures
of Vaughan (March 31) and Markham (Apr. 30)
– 1 Reassigned to a Vacancy (Pre-Covid)
– 2 Elected Recall instead of Vacancy (Pre-Covid)
– 2 Placed on Recall due to No Vacancies (Post Covid)
Although no Regular Part-Time Support have been laid off directly due to Covid 19, there were two employees from Markham who were unable to bump into vacancies because there are no vacancies right now. Any vacant positions have been put on hold until after this crisis.
Employment Stability for Regular Part-Time employees has been further complicated because the Union and College have still not resolved outstanding issues about who is Regular and who is Casual. Regular employees are those who have regular weekly hours, which is a lot more casual employees than the College has agreed to. We filed 300 challenges to the College’s June, 2019 Seniority List. Last week, agreement was reached on about one fifth of the cases, predominantly in the Faculty of Continuing Education.
Status of RPT Challenges
192 Regular Part-Time Employees on June, 2019 Seniority List
300 Challenges Submitted by Local 561
47 Challenges Upheld
10 Original RPTs became Full-Time
19 Left Bargaining Unit of College
The Local is analyzing the response from the College and new Part-Time lists from March, to determine how many of the remaining challenges will be pursued. We will be contacting effected employees for more info soon.
Layoffs of Full-Time Employees
0 FT Support Laid Off due to Covid 19
12 FT Support notified of Layoffs due to Vaughan Closure March 31st
– 6 Placed in Vacancies
– 1 on PD Leave
– 5 Placed in Temporary Vacancies
– 0 Probationary or Other Full-Time Support Displaced
125 FT Support at Risk as Normal Work Halted Due to Covid-19
27 FT Support accepted early retirement to help save jobs for younger staff
1 FT Vacancy has been posted since March 15.
If you have had difficulty changing your routine for Seneca@Home, imagine what it is like for employees who were bumped into completely new jobs, just before or after March 16. Anything you can do to help your co-workers in this situation, will be greatly appreciated.
Vacation Carry-Over for Full-Time Support
You will be asked to schedule your remaining vacation before the end of June. All Colleges are doing this to minimize costs at this time. Yes, vacation during Covid is not ideal. However, it is not likely to be better in the Summer, or even later this year. And using your vacation will greatly improve the College’s finances. Vacation carry-over must be recorded as a liability in the College’s Accounts. In good years, this debt is not as serious, but this is not a good year. In a deficit this year, carried vacation credits increase the debt and interest charges on that debt. The College has paid all full-time employees regardless of whether or not they had work they could do from home. Please choose some nice weeks in May and June, and know that taking your vacation could save jobs.
If you do have an important reason to carry over vacation for a longer vacation next year, then send a request to your supervisor as soon as possible, stating the reason and providing the exact dates you are requesting next year. There is no right to carry-over, only to request. If you have a good reason, and the dates are satisfactory to management, your request will be considered.
If You Are Laid Off
Please contact the union and let us know. Janice@opseu561.org. Please provide a personal email so we can contact you, and keep you on our email list so you get regular updates until you find re-employment. Support Staff who are temporarily laid off for up to one year are still eligible to be OPSEU members, stewards and officers, and still entitled to representation by the Union.
After your last paycheque, the College will be sending Records of Employment to Service Canada. More information will come from the College about that as soon as the automatic process is confirmed. If you require an RoE immediately, and have received your last pay, email Payroll.Department@senecacollege.ca.
CERB Eligibility Increased
You can apply for CERB as soon as you know you will be out of work for at least 14 days (2 weeks) of one of the CERB 4-week periods. The current period started last week, April 12th, so if your contract expired last week, you will expect to be unemployed for at least 4 weeks during this period. You should apply immediately.
CERB eligibility has been increased retro-active to March 15th. You may now be eligible for CERB if you lost one of your part-time jobs or had your hours reduced. You can now collect the CERB $2000 per month even if you are still employed and earning $1000 or less per month. Seasonal workers who cannot take usual summer jobs due to CERB, and those who have recently run out of EI benefits, are also now eligible. The Federal Government also offered to “share” the cost of wage “top-ups” for the working poor in grocery stores, health care and other essential services.
Auto Insurance Rebate
Members who are no longer driving to work every day may want to contact their auto insurer. Some Insurance Companies have agreed to reduce rates during the Covid Period, as your risk and their liability is lower when your car remains in the lot or driveway.
Finally, Let’s Measure of Our Vulnerabilities
Mahatma Gandhi said “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” The crisis of Covid 19 has shone a light on our most vulnerable citizens, and how their treatment has put entire communities and countries at risk. How we treat our seniors when they are no longer capable of caring for themselves was the first lesson. As Covid 19 spread like wild fire through nursing homes and long term care facilities, we are forced to consider shameful conditions for human beings that we know about but choose not to care about. Doug Ford and politicians everywhere are promising this will change, and we need to hold them to that. The situation in Canada is so bad that our average age for Covid-related deaths is significantly higher than the world average.
Last decade’s “new normal” of precarious workers holding multiple part-time jobs has also been a great weakness in our fight against Covid 19. Many under-paid care givers and part-time nurses work in multiple health care settings and homes, becoming potential vectors for spreading pandemics. They were ordered to work in one institution only, as though it were their choice to have multiple, precarious jobs. If the social distancing did not begin when it did, the number of Part-Time workers holding multiple ECE or college support and teaching jobs may have become a serious issue as well. If each of these institutions created more full-time assignments of work, so their employees could survive on one job instead of three, then the same number of hours would have been worked, the same number of workers would be employed, but with more stability, and the safer our patients and vulnerable citizens would be.
Finally, reliance on exploited migrant farm workers has created a serious threat to Canadian food security, especially in large cities, as farmers warn of shortages. In England, those who are unemployed are being sent to the fields. We are all happy to pay less for our food products while turning a blind eye to the treatment of workers who live in broken down houses, 12 to a room, and work in dangerous conditions with no access to minimum wage, reasonable health and safety or any employment standards. In Singapore, officials were able to maintain enviable stats during the crisis, until the virus suddenly hit their migrant worker populations, and then spread throughout the country out of control.
We must understand that what happens in migrant communities and underfunded social services does not stay in migrant communities and underfunded social services. It effects us all. In these strange days, when the Conservative leader of our minority government is sounding like a practical socialist, we must all press for changes that will maintain the safety of our most vulnerable populations, while improving the working conditions and job security for all.
OPSEU Local 561