HSAA VP Trudy Thomson’s Speech to Convention 2017

It’s great to get a few minutes to chat with you a bit about our work and my role in it.

The weird thing about this new role that I have is that there is no real job description – sure the constitution mandates a few of the specific tasks – finances (which you’ll hear more about tomorrow), record keeping, and human resources for our Executive Director and Executive Liaison, but I soon realized that I would have to figure out for myself how my work could enhance and move us forward as a union, and how to best assist our president.

This role as the number-two person in an organization can be a tricky one and we all know about organizations where the two elected officers butt heads on a regular basis. So far, so good, since as Mike pointed out in his speech, he and I have very different approaches to our work – you might remember that he commented on my lists. But you know what – being different works really well for us and we are very much a team.

What we have in common is a commitment to our membership and a commitment to the strategic plan. And we both whole-heartedly agree that our first goal of engagement of our membership is critical at this moment in time. I’m pretty sure each of you read my platform and remember it, but just in case you need to be reminded, my number-one priority was – and remains – to become a more member-focused and member-driven union.

We’re getting there – maybe not as quickly as we’d like. That’s why I’m so pleased that we’ve created the position of Local Unit Advisor and we’re already seeing some of the good work that Amanda’s been doing.

The toughest thing for some of us who have such a strong passion about what direction the Union should take, is that we need to truly give up control when we allow members to take the reins. Will you folks do things the same way we do? Nope! But we’re coming to accept that different doesn’t mean better or worse – it’s just different. And that’s ok.

A lot of my time has been spent representing HSAA at various events and on various boards. This has been a real privilege for me. Mike and I agreed early on that we would split some of these duties to balance the workload and in order to free up more time for each of us to meet with members. I hope that you have noticed that we’ve been able to get out to more of your events, and we look forward to more invitations.

So, as part of that agreement, I became your representative on the Public Interest Alberta and Friends of Medicare boards, while Mike sits on the board of Parkland Institute. And when Friends of Medicare went through its own renewal, I was elected to chair its board. These are important partnerships for us at HSAA to have because their work is critical to our success. They are the folks who are out there pressing for governmental and societal change that is in keeping with our values. They are uniquely situated to speak out of issues like public medicare, democracy, seniors’ issues and so on. Things that we believe in and that are important to our members, but that we may not have the capacity to address with the same thoroughness that they have.

And let me just give a shout out to you on behalf of our partner organizations. If you believe in their work, please consider becoming members or supporting their work through a donation. I think they each have a table in our foyer, or just seek them out online. These organizations do an incredible amount of work considering their very meagre budgets and staffing levels. So, every bit you can donate goes a long way for them. Also, let me mention that Friends of Medicare is having its AGM on Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the HSAA office. We’d love to fill the room and the guest speakers will be awesome – Dr. Ryan Meili and Sarah Hoffman.

And if you really want to support them, consider volunteering for them. I know both PIA and Friends of Medicare have local chapters across the province that they’d love for you to participate in. And it would be great for HSAA to have representation at their tables.

Another assignment I inherited was as our representative on the Canadian Health Professionals Secretariat along with board member Kris Moskal. That is a table where all the unions in NUPGE that represent health-care workers sit, along with some unaffiliated unions. We get the opportunity there to compare notes on issues that are specific to health-care unions, like how we’re coping with the fentanyl crisis and our lobbying efforts to stop paid-for-plasma clinics from spreading across the country. We meet twice a year and find it very helpful to hear about the experience of others.

Mike and I, along with board member Laurel Jackson, had a very interesting experience in January when we headed to Ottawa with the Canadian Health Coalition, of which we’re members through our affiliation with Friends of Medicare. There we had the opportunity to meet with our local Alberta Members of Parliament to try to get them to understand the importance of bringing in a national drug plan. Unfortunately, the government couldn’t come to an agreement with the provinces at this time, but the mere act of sitting down with our elected representatives, no matter what party they’re from, to talk about an issue that is important is very empowering.

And you learn that these politicians are first and foremost regular people, foibles and all. Let me just say, there was a certain Conservative leadership candidate who completely lost my respect when he refused to engage with the women in our group at any level, and made us feel like second-class citizens until it was time for the photo op. I guess I can understand why he ended up dead last in the voting!

Another great opportunity for me this year was to participate as part of the Canadian Labour Congress’s delegation to the annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. It really drove home for me why we do so much hard work on women’s issues here. It may seem like we have it pretty good compared to women in other countries, but it is because of the work we have done here and the gains that we have made that they are able to move forward, albeit at a slower pace. On a personal note, I gained a new appreciation of the concept of “transparency” because after being scanned many, many times on Parliament Hill and the UN, there is little privacy left!

Back at home, it’s been great to see the direct impact that we can have on our own government. It’s already been mentioned how great it is that they make time to meet with us on issues of common interest. While we meet with ministers far more frequently than in the past, we also have the direct lines to their senior staff who are always willing to chat with us when something important is going on.

I was impressed when AHS scared us all with its Operational Best Practices notions how quickly the health minister’s office responded to our concerns, which led to a Letter of Understanding from AHS that spoke directly to our unique needs as HSAA.

Again as they are considering what model to use for medical labs in Alberta, we have been consulted directly and our input has been noted. Having a voice doesn’t mean we always get what we want, but at least we know we’re being heard!

While all of these meetings have been important and certainly interesting, the ones I still enjoy the most are those I’ve been able to have with you, our membership. How will we know what is really important to you, if we don’t create the opportunities to listen.

I am truly pleased with how well your union hall has been used and embraced by you. It is not uncommon these days to head up there and see all the rooms being used by you for one meeting or another.

Of course, not all of you have the privilege to have that building in your community and I have really appreciated the meetings that I’ve been able to attend closer to your homes as well. And we’re committed to doing more of that. In fact, as soon as convention is over and we’ve had a night or two to sleep, Mike, Jerry and I are sitting down to talk about our plans for Fall, which may bring us to a town near you.

There is another task on the horizon that we have just begun to address. As much as we love our staff and in spite of what a great job they do for us, time marches on for all of us and apparently some of them are interested in a retirement. As it so happens, several of our senior staff are looking to life more focused on their grandkids and other fun pursuits within the next several years. While we will have opportunity to formally wish them well when the time comes, we need to prepare for their departure now. Your board has assembled a hiring committee and a nationwide search for talented union leaders has already begun.

One more thing I’d like to mention is HSAA’s involvement with the various District Labour Councils throughout the province. We have representatives at several of them, but I’d like to recognize four of our members who have also served in executive positions on various councils – some for many years: Val Hadwin in Medicine Hat, Sandi Hayes in Red Deer, Lesley Baker in Calgary and Melissa Field in Edmonton. They are all leaving these roles, and we thank them for bringing our voices to those tables.  Their absences will be felt, so please contact me if you think this might be place where you might be able to offer your services. We’re not asking for you to step into leadership, but we certainly need to ensure that we have HSAA members at each and every Labour Council throughout the province so that we can help set the direction.

So, let me end with a few more important thank yous. I, too, would like to thank our staff for all the work that they do on our behalf. We keep them pretty busy and are grateful for the level of service we get from them. To our local unit executive members and our committee members, thank you for going above and beyond.

And to our board of directors and the advisory committee – you know, you guys are great. I love your passion and your commitment to the work. And I look forward to what we’ll be able to accomplish in the year to come.

And especially to Mike – this is a guy who just keeps going and going and, in spite of all of our urgings, just can’t turn it off. I can assure you that in him you have a president who has your well-being at heart.

Some of you may have noticed that he was away for a couple of hours this afternoon. That is because he was awarded the EMS Exemplary Service Medal by the Lieutenant Governor for his service to Albertans over the course of his career. He didn’t want to go, but we insisted and I think we should all take a second to congratulate him on that honour.

So lastly, thanks for your attention this afternoon and your commitment to being here. You are the reason we exists, and I want to tell you that it is truly an honour to serve you as your vice-president and I couldn’t be more excited for the work that lays ahead.