Looking out for LGBTQ in the labour movement

Sebastian Trujillo recently became the first official representative of the LGBTQ community on the executive board of SEIU Healthcare, the healthcare union representing 55,000 working in Ontario’s hospitals, long-term care homes, and homecare agencies.

Seb, as they like to be called for short, was born in Mexico and came to Canada in 2001.

“It feels awesome,” says Seb about representing the LGBTQ community with the union. “I became a member steward four years ago…they gave me training. One thing led to another.”

Seb tells us a bit about coming out…twice, Seb laughs.

Sebastian and Premier Wynne

“I was open as a lesbian. Almost a year ago I decided to come out of the closet for the second time as I call it, because one was not enough.”

Seb recently came out as a proud trans man.

“At Mount Sinai [where Seb works as a mail room clerk] I felt confident talking to my co-workers but I needed supervisors and HR to be trained on what trans means and which pronouns I want them to use. They were very respectful of everything.”

Before, Mount Sinai didn’t have any bathrooms, lockers, or showers for trans people. Seb is happy to reveal that they recently made that change – it took them just two months. In total, 5 people are using the new facilities.

At the Convention where Sebastian was recently elected LGBTQ rep, he presented Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne with a thank-you gift for coming to speak to the 500 attendees.

The Premier spoke about the need to transform the healthcare system and praised the healthcare workers that make it all possible – cooking, cleaning, caring, and holding the hands of our family and friends during some of the most difficult times in our lives. It was the second time Seb had met her.

“We usually do the 5k run for pride and she’s always there. Having people in the LGBT community in these positions where they can help our community is amazing. People can see she’s a normal person and part of the community.”

Seb’s position as mail room clerk at Mount Sinai requires them to interact with everyone. “I talk to everyone in this hospital, I deliver their mail and lab reports, I go in and out of every single department. It gives me a chance to talk to all our members.”

Seb has a 2-year-old, Gavriel, and took time off last year to spend with their wife and son before returning to work at Mount Sinai.

“Just don’t let me handle the cash”

By

He said it, not us. Whether it’s a Tim Hortons’ till or the country’s coffers, a big part of politics is about who is the best person to manage Canada’s money. You have to look at who has it, who doesn’t, and how to pay for projects big and small.

Politicians tend to us the same words to appeal to voters. Families. Working class. Middle class. It can be difficult to distinguish between them.

No one likes taxes, but we certainly have to pay them in order to have the systems and infrastructure that we are proud of—and need—in Canada.

One of the most expensive budget items in the country is our healthcare system. Our current Prime Minister changed the healthcare funding formula to provinces and now healthcare costs and spending are increasing at levels higher than the amount of cash paid out by the federal government to help pay for it all.

This means provinces will continue to face a funding crunch. Sound familiar? We all depend on public healthcare. Hopefully the next Prime Minister will recognize that—and know how to manage the money.

$16/hour minimum for homecare PSWs is a question of need, not just worth

While a group of about 80 personal support workers (PSWs) were talking about SEIU Healthcare’s “Sweet $16” campaign at a conference in Toronto in early March, a woman stood up to make a very important point.

“My only issue,” she said “is only saying that we deserve a $16 per hour minimum wage. We really need it. I can’t afford to live like this anymore.”

In Ontario, unlike PSW work in other sectors such as long-term care, which pays an average of $20/hour, homecare work currently pays far less than what the PSWs both need and deserve.

Chrystal is a single mom who relies on subsidized childcare to afford to go to work. Those are her own words. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work—especially not for healthcare workers who put their heart and soul into keeping people comfortable at home. Chrystal should be able to work full-time, reliable hours at a decent wage, raise her son, and maybe save a little on the side. But that’s not how it is right now.

She provides her services to people in their own homes because she believes that rather than be forced into retirement or long-term care homes, people “should be able to stay where they are comfortable.”

Watch homecare PSW Chrystal talk about her work and what $16/hour would mean to her:

While homecare PSWs do a lot of physical and technical work in the home to monitor and maintain clients’ health, they also provide emotional support and help with social isolation. Many visits start off with a cup of tea or a chat, and sometimes their PSW is the only person a client sees all day or week.

You can see that Chrystal believes in the work she does. She knows her fellow PSWs care, too: “I think homecare workers have their heart in homecare for a reason and that is to help people have a quality of life.”

The only provincial standard for homecare wages is that PSWs must be paid a minimum of $12.50 an hour. Especially when taking into account the fact that most companies don’t properly reimburse for travel time and distance, or guarantee hours paid, this is not nearly enough.

A $16/hour floor would be a good start, but homecare PSWs and their advocates will need to push for parity with PSW work in the long-term care and hospital sectors.

Higher pay is better for the workers, it’s better for the clients, and it’s better for all Ontarians who will be able to attract and retain skilled PSWs in homecare. And we will all likely need their services one day.

G.W.

A voice to be reckoned with?!

Whether it’s the worker who stands up for her colleagues in the workplace, the father who demands better care for his ailing child, the student who asks her school for healthy lunch options, the neighbour who goes door to door collecting signatures…advocacy comes in different shapes and sizes.

In order to be an advocate, at the most basic level, you need (a) a voice and (b) direction.

Everyday most of us perform small acts of advocacy. We promote, we assist, we defend, we recommend, we encourage, we advance- sometimes without even realizing we are being advocates.

Advocacy is a compelling tool, and when it is used well, it can be a force to be reckoned with.

One of the best ways to utilize your voice is to champion on behalf of those who aren’t given the opportunity to be heard. Today we commemorate the lives of people around the world who have stood up for the rights of others. But we don’t need to go far to look for these champions.

We have everyday heroes in this organization who have fought and continue to fight for essentials that many of us take for granted- the ability to work without fear & intimidation, fair wages, respect, sick days, and the list goes on. And as Minister Matthews rightly says, as members of SEIU Healthcare, we have educated & informed not only the general public, but our leaders as well. We have raised questions that have garnered the attention of the Premier.

How is this possible? How do we manage to bring our fight all the way to the top? What makes us different is that we are intentional with our advocacy and our fight is values-based. In other words, we don’t fight for the sake of fighting. Rather, we join together and decide what needs to be done, we agree on a plan, and we work towards that plan- together. Our fight is always based on principles, perhaps the most obvious of these being dignity.

We advocate because we know that there is a human face and a real life story behind every healthcare worker.

Healthaholic is about championing for those very voices; to bring healthcare to life.

S.R.S