35 down, 4,500 to go. OPSEU’s 35 personal support workers reached a tentative agreement with VON Grey Bruce late this afternoon while 4,500 PSWs working for Red Cross/Care Partners will be on the picket line tomorrow. These workers are represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
The Ontario Health Coalition and SEIU will be holding local rallies across the province tomorrow to draw attention to the low-wage strategy the Ontario government is pursuing in the key home care sector.
“It is not usual for the Ontario Health Coalition to get involved in strikes,” OHC Director Natalie Mehra stated tonight, “but this is an exceptional situation and it warrants an exceptional response.”
Calling the working conditions “starkly exploitive,” Mehra says the strike could shine a light on the mess that is home care.
Like the VON PSWs, the Red Cross/Care Partners workers are among the lowest paid in the health system – most earning an annual income that hovers at about or slightly below the poverty line. Many have to work two or more jobs to support their families and maintain a vehicle to be able to shuttle between clients.
Without compensation for travel time, many of these workers get paid part-time wages for full-time hours.
The province’s pursuit of low-wage PSWs has created significant instability in the home care workforce as few stick around with such non-competitive wages. Only four of 35 OPSEU VON PSWs had reached the top of their wage grid prior to today’s tentative agreement.
Former Health Minister Elinor Caplan recognized the retention problem and its impact on continuity of care. In her 2005 review of the home care competitive bidding process, she recommended that the Ontario Association of Community Care Access Centres and the health care providers establish an “industry standard” that would include including dental, drug plans, pension and mileage. In 2006 the province instead established a disappointing minimum wage of $12.50 an hour for PSWs. It hasn’t been adjusted since.
The 35 OPSEU PSWs are asked to come to a ratification meeting at 7 pm, December 11 at the OPSEU Regional Office in Owen Sound.
Support PSWs Wednesday at 25 noon rallies across Ontario
If you would like to support the striking SEIU PSWs, especially as they approach the holiday season, the OHC has provided a list of locations where they will be rallying tomorrow (Wednesday, December 11). All rallies begin at noon.