OPSEU Information picket outside the Niagara CCAC offices March 19th.
When the unhappy staff at the Niagara branch of CarePartners first entertained the idea of organizing themselves into a union, CarePartners owner Linda Knight picked up the phone and called each of the workers. She promised that things would get better if only the front line home care workers gave her another chance before joining a union.
Nobody knows any of the financial details of Knight’s business – the for-profit CarePartners is not publicly traded and is therefore not required to report the details of its operations. Nor are for-profit companies working with public money required to post on the Sunshine list. We do know that in 2003 Profit magazine ranked Knight 33rd among the top 100 women business owners based on the firm’s gross revenues. Media reports suggest CarePartners had more than 500 nurses on the payroll – a huge leap forward from the kitchen-table nursing operation Knight started in 1984.
The fact that a prominent CEO and business owner would call about 100 workers pleading with them not to organize was extraordinary.
The gambit worked at the time, and the workers gave her another chance to make things better.
Knight never honoured that pledge.
Fool me once, but not twice.
Nursing staff are leaving CarePartners in Niagara and Norfolk Counties as the employer thwarts efforts to secure a first collective agreement.
Continuity of care is important to the delivery of home care. Each time a caregiver changes there is a necessary rebuilding of relationships. If caregivers are continually turning over, it is much more difficult to notice changes in the patient’s medical condition. For example, if a nurse never saw a wound before, how can she or he tell whether it is healing properly? Much of the care work is intimate in nature and subsequently relationships built up over time are important.
In 2003 the not-for-profit Victorian Order of Nurses lost the Community Care Access Centre’s visiting nursing contract in the Niagara region during a year in which the community was celebrating VON’s centenary. We were told over and over that the competitions were about quality, not necessarily price.
In the subsequent contract turnover one of the companies – the for-profit CarePartners – simply could not recruit sufficient experienced staff to successfully take over care from the VON. Instead they shuttled nursing staff from other operations around the province to do what they could to shore up their contract obligations. We heard first-hand patient stories about missed visits, about an inability to contact CarePartners over the weekends, about stressed staff rushing in and out to keep up with an impossible workload.
Of those few nurses who transitioned from VON to CarePartners, in 2005 we were unable to successfully argue in court that this represented a sale of business, and subsequently those workers were unable to retain their rights or union. Many of the VON’s original staff decided to find work elsewhere.
It’s more than 10 years later and the Niagara and Norfolk County staff of CarePartners chose OPSEU to help them seek a first collective agreement with the company. CarePartners is a much larger corporation these days thanks to an initial merger with Red Cross and the subsequent purchase of Red Cross’ home support operations.