Employer failed to provide medical masks to workers in long term care home in outbreak

WINDSOR – As the pandemic continues to claim more lives, long-term care workers continue to face disrespect by private long-term care employers.

“The pandemic has exposed the chronic and dangerous situations in our nursing homes,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “Long term care staff are exhausted. They go to work every day hoping they won’t contract COVID-19 and that they and their residents will be safe. They trust that the employer will have proper personal protective equipment to keep them safe.”

Long-term Care employers have received government funding to ensure employees’ and residents safety. The Ministry mandates that all employees must wear, at a minimum, medical masks when at work. However, Fairfield Park in Wallaceburg, purchased non-medical grade masks for its employees and only removed them after the union did their own research to disprove the employer’s claims that the masks were government approved.

“Fairfield Park is in a terrible outbreak, and this owner put their own workers at risk while the virus spread through the building infecting residents and staff,” said Tullio DiPonti, President of Unifor Local 2458. “Premier Ford should pull their license for contributing to the spread of this terrible virus.”

This employer was awarded approximately $80 million of taxpayer money to either build or expand the Brouillette Manor in Windsor, another home operated by this same owner, even though they already have trouble retaining staff. Unifor has called attention to the staffing crisis in long term care in the province. Though the government has created dedicated funding for recruiting new staff, employers must be held accountable for their inactions.

“How do we attract workers to this sector when they are not certain their employer is doing everything in their power to keep them safe and provide them with appropriate PPE,” continued DiPonti. “These same workers go to the bargaining table and face pages of concessions, even after working through a pandemic.”

Many private long-term care providers contract services to bargain a collective agreement to Bass Associates and most owners rarely show up to bargaining.  Once a pattern has been established, employers will not to stray from that. Employers typically table concessions to sick leave and benefits to force a settlement, hoping bargaining committees are unwilling to have these concessions go before an arbitrator.

“This is exactly the trap that our members at Brouillette Manor and Fairfield Park are stuck in,” said Tullio DiPonti, President of Unifor Local 2458. “Imagine after working the front-lines of this pandemic in a nursing home, and then you go to the bargaining and our committee feels a complete lack of respect for the work that they do by a Toronto based lawyer. The employer doesn’t seem to have learned anything from the tragedy that has unfolded in this sector.”

Attracting workers, and in particular personal support workers, has been next to impossible over the last few years. This crisis has been confirmed by independent sources, including the MOLTC staffing committee, the LTC Commission and the report of the Ontario Health Coalition “Caring in Crisis, Ontario’s PSW shortage” commissioned by Unifor and released more than a year ago.”

“One of the factors leading to this crisis has been a decade of below-inflation wage increases,” said Dias. “LTC workers are not allowed to strike. They are mandated to go to arbitration, and arbitration awards have not been generous. They have fallen behind their counterparts who work in Municipal LTC homes by at least $3.00 per hour.”

Contract negotiations opened with Brouillette Manor and Fairfield Park in October 2020. The union was disappointed that the employer rejected the union’s modest changes to the collective agreement and even more disappointed that they are not taking their obligation to protect workers and residents seriously.

For more information and to sign the Better Care, Safe Work, Fair Pay petition please visit www.caretakestime.ca

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.