Saskatoon city council is choosing to continue contracting an outside company to manage sick leave for transit workers, despite bus drivers saying the system is flawed.
Councillors voted 7-4 on Monday in favour of extending the year-long project with Bridges Health until 2018. The agreement allows the company to oversee sick-day management for the drivers at the cost of $70,000 to the city.
If the city were to handle the services themselves, it would cost $50,000.
Bridges Health submitted a report to council showing absenteeism related to health had dropped nine per cent since they got involved.
But Amalgamated Transit Union Local 615 President Jim Yakubowski said those numbers are partially because his drivers are being denied paid medical leave, despite them obtaining doctors’ notes for their absences.
“They’re denying it on the basis that it’s insufficient,” Yakubowski told reporters after the meeting.
He provided examples of doctors’ notes submitted to Bridges Health, most of which were one or two lines long and gave reasons such as “lower acute back pain” or simply saying a worker “had an illness” and would be returning to work the next day.
Yakubowski said doctors are also frustrated with the system, noting patient information should remain private.
He added 13 of the union’s current 48 grievances with Saskatoon Transit are regarding the management of their sick days.
Yakubowski said there was never a problem to begin with, since workers averaged 68 hours of sick leave in 2016.
“We don’t have a huge issue,” he said. “Our workplace and the work we do is susceptible to many illnesses because of the volume of people we deal with.”
Despite the union’s concerns, several councillors were encouraged by the reduction in sick days and wanted the pilot project to continue for another year.
“I do not expect that an employee group would get behind a change like this,” Ward 5 Coun. Randy Donauer said. “The goal of this program is to get people assessed as quickly as possible, to get people the proper treatment that they need.”
Donauer said he appreciated Yakubowski’s grievances, noting the health service likely needed to work out some of the kinks in the system.
Councillors Ann Iwanchuk, Hilary Gough and Bev Dubois debated in favour of bringing the sick day management back within the city fold, given the issues bus drivers were having.
“A corporation of our size, we should be able to handle this work,” Iwanchuk said. “I don’t see what the benefit has been (of contracting it out).”
Ward 8 Coun. Sarina Gersher also voted against continuing to contract Bridges Health.
Mayor Charlie Clark and councillors Zach Jeffries, Troy Davies, Darren Hill, Cynthia Block and Mairin Loewen voted with Donauer to continue the pilot.