OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas (far right) with striking ONA CCAC professionals in Kingston last Friday.
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.
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Tagged CarePartners, Community Care Access Centres, Don Ford, Dr. Eric Hoskins, Gilles Lanteigne, Jacqueline Redmond, Mary Elizabeth Kuchta, Megan Allen-Lamb, Melody Miles, ONA strike, Ontario Nurses' Association, ParaMed Home Health Care, Red Cross Care Partners, Richard Joly, Sandra Coleman, Warren Smokey Thomas in Kingston
Striking home care workers from Renfrew County were told yesterday by hired security guards that there was no one at Extendicare’s Markham headquarters to meet with them — not even their millionaire CEO. It appears the executives fled in the face of their own employees.
The company had tried to get OPSEU to cancel the picket the day before, pledging to return to the bargaining table later this week.
The Renfrew County women had travelled a round trip of more than 1,000 kilometres to face down the executives who have been proposing extending their wage freeze to five years as well as make other changes that will adversely affect their worklife. Some have starting wages as low as $12.88 per hour. The workers are employees of ParaMed Home Health Care, a subsidiary of Extendicare.
They were supported on the picket line Tuesday by OPSEU activists and board.
To watch the video, click on the window above.
Striking Renfrew County home care workers and their supporters picket outside of ParaMed’s Ottawa office on Monday.
As privatization creeps further into Canada’s health system it’s fair to ask whether decisions are being made based on private profit or health care needs?
As contract health providers become multinational, the interests of Canadian patients may also take a back seat to corporate priorities in other countries.
Extendicare is a Markham-based for-profit company that operates on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. About 37 per cent of its revenue comes from the company’s operations in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. CEO Timothy Lukenda lives in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, not far from the company’s U.S. headquarters in Milwaukee. His father is a well-known dentist in the Sault and owns the junior hockey franchise in that city. Prior to getting the top job at Extendicare, Lukenda was an investment banker.
Extendicare’s business involves assisted living centers, nursing homes, health technology services, outpatient therapy and home health care. Overall they have 35,000 employees, making them one of the largest private long-term care providers in North America.
Extendicare’s home care subsidiary, ParaMed Home Health Care, is presently involved in a bitter strike in Renfrew County, northwest of Ottawa.
It’s fair to ask whether the hard-line ParaMed is taking at the bargaining table is motivated by priorities on the other side of the border?
Sign on the door Tuesday at of one of ParaMed’s Renfrew County offices.
Renfrew County doesn’t usually generate a lot of headlines.
In a very conservative part of the province the plight of a 110 striking home care workers is generating some sympathy as they take on a corporate behemoth. It’s a David versus Goliath story that pits the millionaire Extendicare CEO against the $12.88 an hour home support worker.
The striking front line staff at ParaMed Home Health Care’s Renfrew County operations are a mere drop in the bucket in Extendicare’s universe. Extendicare, which owns ParaMed, employs about 35,000 workers in Canada and the U.S. Its international headquarters are in Markham, Ontario.
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The power a company that size is being used to grind down the small Renfrew group. It’s been 21 months since their collective agreement expired and ParaMed has shown little interest in coming to the bargaining table or shifting from its hard-line position.
Of course, for Extendicare, there is little at stake beyond the profits generated from this small corner of the province and some public relations value. This is hardly showing Extendicare in a good light, but it may be the least of their concerns. Extendicare recently announced a $42.2 million legal settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services after a 2010 investigation regarding undisclosed claims in alleged violation of the U.S. Social Security Act. The company also has to undergo a five-year corporate integrity agreement, not that Extendicare admits to having done anything illegal.
Back on the streets of Renfrew County the concerns are very different.
Support came from across the region Wednesday as ParaMed’s Renfrew workers travelled to Ottawa to picket the company’s offices on Hunt Club Road. The workers will almost certainly be on strike next Tuesday.
Wednesday Renfrew County workers for ParaMed Home Health Care held a surprise picket outside the company’s Ottawa offices supported by a number of regional labour activists.
ParaMed has expressed remarkable indifference to an imminent strike that will sideline 110 nursing and home support workers in the region. Most of these workers are low-wage women.
The company has sent many mixed messages to these workers.
They say they want a deal, but refuse to offer any more bargaining dates until three days into a strike. That makes any last minute agreement to avert disruption to service impossible.
They say that in the event of a strike referrals will go to other home care agencies, but then irresponsibly tell workers that they can cross the picket line if they should choose to continue working.
They have also suggested they may shut down permanently.
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.