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Home-care workers just want a 'fair deal'

Administrative staff at CarePartners have been without a collective agreement since March 31

The hits keep coming for workers in the long-term care field, as roughly two dozen people picketed Monday after CarePartners Sudbury employees were locked out of their office on May 31.

The employees in question were administrative staff and home-care co-ordinators, who arrange and schedule home-care visits which are done by personal support workers (PSW). Sudbury is in the midst of a PSW crisis, and the strain is now being felt beyond just the frontline-care workers, and has made its way to those at the admin level.

CarePartners is one of the main providers of home care in Sudbury, along with its main competitor Bayshore Health Care, and CarePartners schedulers have been without a collective agreement since March 31.

The latest deal tabled by CarePartners to its employees is "concession-laden" and "unacceptable," says Mike Scott, staff representative with the United Steelworkers Local 2020.

"We will not accept this offer," said Scott. "Monetarily, we're just looking for a fair deal and we haven't seen one. They've offered employees a 0.05-per-cent lump-sum payment, which comes out to about $180 for the year."

According to Scott, the latest offer made by CarePartners is riddled with cuts to employee pensions, vacation time, sick days, while leaving out any type of raise to wages, which is $16.15 an hour, regardless of seniority.

"They want to have employees working on weekends more often, they want to take away vacation time — all in all, they're asking for more work for less money," said Scott. "This is a for profit organization, but they want to keep the profits for themselves. They're trying to hide behind the Ford government's cuts to health care, but this has been going on for years."

According to Scott, employees at Bayshore who do the same job as those at CarePartners, make roughly $18 an hour and the hope is that CarePartners will bump wages to at least close to on par with Bayshore.

The lockout has not affected the frontline care work directly as of yet, but Scott says it is a concern not having anyone in the office here in Sudbury to schedule home care to those who receive it through CarePartners.

"Right now it's been bumped down south, so people in Toronto and Kitchener are scheduling the (CarePartners) PSWs in Sudbury," said Scott. "They don't know the geography here, they don't know the lay of the land."

Jessica Montgomery is the unit president at CarePartners Sudbury and has been working for the company for seven years. Montgomery was there when the company transitioned from the non-profit sector to the for-profit model it now operates under.

"Originally it was Red Cross who was doing this, until CarePartners took it over and it became for-profit," said Montgomery. "Employee contracts were grandfathered in, but now they're trying to slash things like number of weeks for vacation, sick days, stat holidays."

Montgomery was offered $400 to sign off on the new deal that would see those who have worked up to five or six weeks of vacation be scaled back to the Employee Standards Act number of two or three weeks.

"We're willing to take some concessions if there's a wage increase," said Montgomery, who is also fighting for adding language to the collective agreement that will protect workers from workplace harassment and bullying.

"There's no protection in our workplace for people who are harassed or bullied, there needs to be language in the CBA that keeps us safe, but right now we have nothing to rectify these types of situations, and often it's just deemed as not being harassment."

Scott says workers will continue to picket and fight for a fair deal until the two sides get back to the bargaining table which could be by June 11 at the earliest.