Disclaimer: The following letter was written by the twenty-two family physicians in Owen Sound, who were recently the subject of a major labour dispute. The doctors feel that there were many aspects of the dispute that were incorrectly reported in the media, and have asked me to publish their letter on my site so they can present their view. Opinions are theirs.
The doctors of the Owen Sound Family Health Organization (FHO) feel they have an obligation to provide an update to the community with regard to the recent ratification of an agreement with OPSEU local 276.
After our employees decide to strike in May, we discovered that many of the practices we had been using to support the provision of patient care were inefficient and frustrating for physicians and patients. We advised OPSEU of this in July.
Among the many improvements we made are better management of patient records, phones, web bookings and communications with patients. Patient Kiosks have been established that many people use on presentation for an appointment. Some redundant and inefficient activities during patient interaction were identified. All of this was done while the workers were on strike.
OPSEU was advised of our plan to reorganize and institute two positions that we felt would better meet our needs. We developed a position called a Patient Flow Co-Ordinator to help patients navigate our clinic. We plan to hire Medical Office Assistants who ARE College certified to meet our other needs. OPSEU ultimately agreed with our plan to move forward with these hires. We’ve also hired 2 Clinic Managers.
Out of respect for the work done in the past, we offered the employees that remained a severance package (through OPSEU) that would provide financial support as they seek employment better suited to their skill sets.
OPSEU has produced much information during the negotiations, strike and ratification process. Their details do not fit our understanding of what has happened.
We categorically deny any allegation of harassment, bullying or threats by the employers or its representatives, as OPSEU alleged (without foundation). We feel that these allegations were advanced by the union and its supporters against physicians, patients and replacement workers in failing attempts to generate support for the strike. This was horrifying and exceeded anything we would have expected in a workplace dispute.
One person who attended the health centre alleged that because she did not roll down her window to speak to strikers, her car was subject to $4,150 in damages. She provided the picture below (complete with accessible parking permit in her dashboard).
Another incident involved a veteran who was attending the health centre and stated he was subject to abuse at the picket line. He has provided a letter, but is too traumatized to allow his name to be printed. There were many other incidents.
OPSEU has attempted to promote misinformation during the labour dispute. It even filed a complaint of unfair labour practice with the Ontario Labour Relations Board. We defended the complaint and it was ultimately withdrawn by OPSEU. It had no merit. Our response is attached.
OPSEU’s President also filed official complaints about 3 physicians with the CPSO (our licensing body) even though he never had any direct contact with those physicians. We feel these complaints were used in attempts to intimidate the physicians. In the end, we stood up for health care and the complaints were withdrawn. They were without merit.
OPSEU’s President misinforms when he states that “public money” was used to hire legal support and security. Physicians are paid for the services they provide. Physicians then hire staff to support the provision of patient care as well as cover usual business costs (rent, utilities, equipment, etc). When faced with complex legal and human resource management issues like this, we had to get appropriate legal support. Given OPSEU’s tactics, security was essential to try to protect our patients.
Additionally, OPSEU did target the 3 physicians who were on the negotiation team as being “owners” of the organization. This is untrue. We are a group of 22 physicians who operate in a FHO and have formed a business partnership to manage our expenses. We rent our premises and essentially own nothing.
Some of our former employees did not support the actions of the union and did end their employment with us citing a lack of support for the union. Almost 45% resigned during the strike. We regret that many good employees have had their lives disrupted in this way, but unfortunately there was nothing we could do within this system to rectify that. Once employees are unionized they have to support their union or are threatened with major financial fines.
We feel that we have been transparent, respectful and honest during this process. We have received overwhelming support from our patients and public and are enormously grateful for that. Letters to the editor like this one have resonated with the community. We hope we can move forward as a group and support each other to provide better, more efficient care.
The Doctors of the Owen Sound Family Health Organization