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Staff at Okanagan-Shuswap seniors care homes heading to strike vote

7 B.C. facilities; two main issues fueling the fire
A strike vote will be conducted among staff at Vernon’s Heron Grove facility and six other such long-term residences in B.C. in a dispute with the facilities’ employer, Good Samaritan Canada, over contracting out jobs and benefits. (Morning Star - file photo)

A strike vote from “healthcare heroes” will take place at seven B.C. seniors facilities owned and operated by Good Samaritan Canada in the coming week.

Staff at the facilities – which include Heron Grove in Vernon; Hillside Village and Pioneer Lodge in Salmon Arm, and Village by the Station in Penticton – are represented by the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU). They say they’ve been without a contract for three years, and that Good Samaritan Canada refuses to bargain.

Two contentious issues are benefits and the potential removal of contracting out protection language from the collective agreement.

One HEU member, who asked not to be identified, told Black Press Media the employer hiked the cost of the members’ benefits plan by 29 per cent but offered no modest improvements.

“The employer is also demanding removing of contracting-out protections from the collective agreement,” said the member. “They want the right to contract out any Good Sam job at any time.

“If they contract out, all of us lose our jobs.”

At Heron Grove, there are close to 80 full-, part-time and casual workers who help look after residents in 40 assisted living units and 72 long-term care beds.

According to the HEU bargaining committee, the employer last spent money on the membership in 2019 with a wage increase of only 65 cents per hour.

The employer, said the HEU, is not offering any increase until Jan. 1, 2024, and it’s a minimal shift differential.

Good Samaritan Canada, said the HEU, is also not into discussing health benefits, sick leave provision, or even the addition of Sept. 30, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, as a statutory holiday.

“It’s frustrating,” said the HEU member. “During the pandemic, we were being called ‘healthcare heroes.’ We worked our butts off. We kept our residents safe. We sacrificed our own time away from our own families, and we sacrificed our families at the height of the pandemic.

“In the first year (of the pandemic) we were the only family that residents had because families were not allowed to come in and see them.”

Good Samaritan Canada president and CEO Dr. Katherine Chubbs says Good Sam “is committed to maintaining a good relationship with our unions and we will continue negotiating in good faith.”

“We remain optimistic that negotiations will result in an agreement,”said Chubbs. “Resident care remains our number one priority and we will do our utmost to ensure that is maintained. Collective bargaining is sometimes a long process. With COVID-19, bargaining was paused for a period of time, but it resumed in 2021 and we have been meeting since then.

“We cannot comment on specifics of collective bargaining.”

HEU has begun a Care Can’t Wait campaign and is bringing it to its members of the seven facilities in B.C.

Frontline workers, said the union, are doing their best to provide quality care, but some organizations, like Good Samaritan, “are refusing to renew contracting out protections which is one of four key improvements to seniors’ care that Care Can’t Wait is calling for.”

Good Samaritan Canada is a not-for-profit organization.

The union said it can make new care spaces public or non-profit, not operated by private companies.

Fix the staffing crisis and force private companies to follow regulations, meet standards and increase transparency.

Strike votes are slated to begin the week of July 17.

Good Samaritan Canada also operates facilities in B.C. in Gibsons, Delta and New Westminster.

This story was updated Wednesday, July 12, at 10:15 a.m. with comments from Good Samaritan Canada

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Roger Knox

About the Author: Roger Knox

I am a journalist with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. I started my career in radio and have spent the last 21 years working with Black Press Media.
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