TORONTO – At a rally Thursday outside the North York General Hospital, health care workers said hiring decisions should be based solely on experience and qualifications and urged the Ontario Hospital Association to reach a negotiated settlement with its employees.

“How many times have you guys seen people get a job over the most senior person even though both of them are equally qualified?” asked Eric Clarke, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 Canada that represents 17,000 workers in Ontario.

“That means that they get to pick people that they want in there. Their friends, their families.”

SEIU workers also claimed that the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) won’t negotiate a workers’ contract in good faith, yet it is prepared to pay North York General Hospital CEO Bonnie Adamson an annual salary of $508,000.

“She’s made $2.3 million dollars over the last five years,” said Bill Hulme, Director of Internal Organizing and Campaigns for the SEIU.

Adamson has been the President and CEO at North York General since August 2002.

“Tell me what kind of health care that would buy. Lots of health care. Lots of nurses. Lots of quality care. And obviously it would put a lot of money back into patient safety that we so desperately need in this province.”

The SEIU called on Bonnie Adamson to speak to the OHA and tell them that the SEIU wants to get back to the table and wrap up a negotiated contract similar to what other hospital unions have in the rest of the province, which is a two per cent increase per year over the next three years.

“And now they want to go to arbitration and not give us that,” said Hulme. “We want to negotiate, not arbitrate.”

The union has been bargaining with the OHA since August 2009 and without a contract since October 2009.

Union representative Kim Kaufman has spent countless hours handling grievances and fighting for equitable job posting language at the North York General Hospital.

Kaufman called the CEO’s salary “absolutely ridiculous” and argued that there needs to be a ceiling on how much they can earn.

“When I hear CEO’s making more money than the Prime Minister, there’s something wrong,” she said. “So I’m hoping the Prime Minister hears this message too.”

Marty Parker, union representative and lead for the Hospital Council Sector of SEIU Local 1 Canada, said that when the union presented its proposal of recognizing experience and seniority to the OHA “for the jobs that they so desperately have the right to”, the OHA responded saying, “If we had it our way we wouldn’t have a job posting procedure.

“We prefer to hire right off the street. That allows us more flexibility.”

Parker said he’s seen the experience that workers bring to North York General and other hospitals around the province. “And it’s damn time that experience be recognized by the Ontario Hospital Association and the 39 hospitals that we represent them in,” he said.

Like Kaufman, Parker is also offended by CEO salaries, particularly when SEIU members are making $30,000 a year or less.

“Is this an Ontario hospital or is this the Ontario Lottery Gaming Corporation?” asked Parker.

“We don’t begrudge anybody from making a decent living, but this is beyond reality. The sense of entitlement is pathetic. When hospitals are being squeezed to the bone, they’re walking away with a half a million to three quarters of a million dollars a year in salaries and bonuses.”

Parker believes that either the Local Health Integration Networks, who plan, fund and manage health care services in Ontario, or the Premier must cap CEO salaries. But Parker wouldn’t say how high that ceiling should be.

On Thursday afternoon, the SEIU presented Ontario hospital CEO’s with postcards from their employees with a simple message: Contact the OHA and get them back to the bargaining table.

If not, Parker said an arbitrated settlement later this summer will result in “the same damn package that’s on the table today.”

Without equity with the other two union hospitals, he warned SEIU hospitals will experience attraction and retention problems.

“That two per cent was already funded in 2008, 2009 and 2010 budgets that the hospitals have already received,” said Parker. “What they’re doing is taking that money, putting it in a bank account collecting interest and delaying as long as possible until they have an arbitrated award in their hands.”

After the rally, a letter from Sharleen Stewart, SEIU President Local 1 Canada, was delivered to Adamson outlining the issues brought forward by today’s speakers. 

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.