About 3,000 professional staff at nine of the 14 Ontario Community Care Access Centres started walking a picket line Friday.
Represented by the Ontario Nurses’ Association, it’s the latest labour disruption in a sector the government considers to be critical to its overall health strategy.
About 140 OPSEU home care workers at ParaMed Home Health Care in Renfrew withheld their services last September after their agency initially failed to negotiate a deal that would lift many of its workers out of poverty. In 2013 SEIU took 4,500 personal support workers at Red Cross Care Partners out on strike over similar conditions. Following that strike the government implemented a well-intentioned but poorly constructed initiative to stabilize the Personal Support Worker (PSW) workforce by increasing funding for their wages over three years. As the government passed on wage increases for these PSWs, some private for-profit home care agencies clawed back compensation for travel time and mileage. In Niagara and Norfolk Counties OPSEU’s nursing staff at CarePartners are likely to strike soon to gain a first contract.
Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins has appointed former RNAO President Gail Donner to lead an expert review on the sector. Her recommendations are expected early this year. They can’t come soon enough.
The pressures during this latest strike will be tremendous given Ontario’s underfunded hospitals have little room to maneuver now that the ability to discharge home care patients to the CCAC has become much more limited.
The CCAC boards are looking particularly ridiculous. The Toronto Star reports that ONA was asking for a 1.4 per cent hike for its workers after emerging from a two-year wage freeze. To most people, that seems more than reasonable in the face of the lavish wage increases the CCAC boards have been bestowing on their CEOs.
Last February Star columnist Bob Hepburn pointed out the massive increases for CCAC CEOs. Between 2009-2012 some had received as much as a 50 per cent cumulative increase in compensation. That didn’t stop in 2013.
Richard Joly, who had already taken a substantial increase between 2009-12 as CEO of the North East CCAC, saw his pay rise by another 16 per cent in 2013, according to the Sunshine List. That’s an increase of almost $40,000 to his reported salary of $288,000. Now his CCAC is one of nine who cannot reach an agreement with their front line staff.
Cathy Szabo was appointed CEO of Providence Care last April after Hepburn had fingered her in the 50 per cent club. In 2013, her board added almost $6,000 to her pay package. Central CCAC is also on strike.
Jacqueline Redmond’s board at the South East CCAC may have taken pity seeing her counterparts soar past her in compensation. They added more than $15,000 to her pay package in 2013, or an increase of about 6.9 per cent. They too couldn’t settle with the ONA professional staff.
Over at the South West CCAC, Sandra Coleman’s compensation continued its upwards trajectory in 2013, another $21,062 to bring her pay up to $288,462. That’s a 7.8 per cent increase from a board that couldn’t give their front line workers an increase that would match the rate of inflation.
Not all CCAC boards felt their CEOs so deserving. Erie St. Clair’s Mary Elizabeth Kuchta took another year of zeros for her own compensation, as did Central East’s Don Ford. Megan Allen-Lamb at North Simcoe Muskoka CCAC netted just $200,000 in 2013 — her first full year on the job. She may feel hard done by compared to Melody Miles (Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant) and Gilles Lanteigne (Champlain), both who crossed into the $300,000 club with whopping big increases in 2013.
Taking back those increases is not likely to save the day for rank and file staff at these CCACs, but the increases have made these CCAC boards look comical to a public increasingly frustrated about access to home care services. They also make it much harder to secure the funding the CCACs truly need to absorb the influx of patients they are seeing as a result of a number of factors, including downloading from hospitals that have been severely underfunded for at least five years.
We noted in October that the Champlain CCAC was shedding long-term patients due to a serious funding shortfall. While the CCAC was given a 7 per cent increase in funding, according to the Ottawa Sun, demand had risen by 11.3 percent.
That’s a problem.
Meanwhile, if you see ONA’s CCAC staff on the picket line, buy them a hot drink, pass on some encouraging words, and perhaps take some time to march alongside. In this winter of our discontent we really need to stick together.