This is starting to look like a pattern: another home care employer, another offer that has angered workers and led to another strike vote.
This time it’s both nursing and personal support workers in Renfrew County who are employees of ParaMed Home Health Care, a division of corporate giant Extendicare.
Tuesday the OPSEU local voted 86 per cent to give their bargaining team a strike mandate. The local is a mix of registered nurses, registered practical nurses, home and personal support workers as well as clerical staff.
Like their counterparts at Red Cross Care Partners, the part-time work means many of these workers are earning wages that would place them close to the poverty line if not below it. The top rate for a personal support worker at this employer is $15.45 an hour when their hospital and long term care counterparts can be earning well in excess of $20 an hour.
A no-board has yet to be issued so no strike date has been set. The Local is hopeful it can still reach an agreement at the bargaining table.
While the Minister of Health has taken a hands-off approach to recent bargaining in the sector, the Community Care Access Centres have been less reluctant to use other contract health providers to attempt to undermine a strike in the sector. That was certainly the case in the Red Cross Care Partners strike just prior to Christmas.
Uncompetitive wages in the sector will make it more difficult to recruit and retain needed health professionals at a time when the province is trying to transfer a greater share of health care funding into home care.
When 35 VON PSWs in Owen Sound were heading towards a strike last December, only four had been employed long enough to receive the top rate on their wage grid.
In 2006 the government introduced a $12.50 minimum wage specifically for personal support workers given concerns about high turnover in the sector. Then they forgot about it.
The government appears reluctant to support wage increases for some of the lowest paid workers in the health system despite transferring the largest increase in funding to home care. In last spring’s budget home care was allocated a six per cent increase.
The Renfrew County workers have had two years without a general wage increase and are looking to stem the decline of their real wages after inflation. The workers are also looking for improved mileage for their travel between clients and enhanced job security.
ParaMed is owned by Extendicare, a Canadian long-term care company that has operations throughout Canada and the U.S. According to Business Week, in 2012 Extendicare CEO Timothy Lukenda received $1.129 million in compensation.
Lukenda became CEO of Extendicare after the Canadian corporation purchased Tendercare Michigan for $232 million. Lukenda had previously filled the top executive position at Tendercare which had been owned by Lukenda’s dentist father Lou. The elder Lukenda is also majority owner of the Soo Greyhounds hockey team.
While ParaMed is offering little at the bargaining table, they have a history of being far less parsimonious when it comes to their executives. The final year in which Lukenda’s predecessor was on the job, Mel Rhinelander was reported to have pocketed nearly $12 million in 2007 including salary, bonus and severance.
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