Battling for a bargain

Approximately 16,000 retirement and nursing home employees will get a new work contract after a group of long-term care union members and representatives battle a combined 100 employers for a better deal for people who work day and night looking after residents.

They are urging Ontario’s long-term care employers to “be fair to those who care.”

The bargaining process has been ongoing this week at a hotel conference room in Richmond Hill. One hundred nursing and retirement homes have come together on one side of the table while SEIU Healthcare members and union representatives sit at the other side of the table.

The two sides engage in a type of civilized battle, each protecting its own interests and defending its allies. It is a skilled dance, and communication is key. The union side works together as a true committee with one voice. In a way, that’s the core of spirit of union power.

This process is one of the most important thing a union does: collective bargaining for a collective agreement. And members have a direct say. Several bargaining committee members were elected to participate in the contract negotiations at the LTC Bargaining Conference held in July 2015.

The members who are here are on leave from work at their normal jobs at nursing and retirement homes across the province.

One such member is Matthew Sheets, a personal support worker (PSW) for Revera Kilean Lodge in Grimsby, Ontario. It’s a small home with 50 beds, so he knows all the residents. He’s worked there on the Alzheimer’s floor for about 3 years.

“It’s a hard job, but the benefits and the satisfaction of the job outweigh the negative. It’s worth it whenever I see positive change, whenever I see resident satisfaction and contentment and know that we are making a difference.”

Matthew has been working with SEIU Healthcare to create change in his workplace, to improve working conditions to meet the needs of the residents, who, he emphasizes, “are our main focus.”

He has a lot of admiration for the chief negotiators and the other members of the bargaining committee because he has learned how much effort goes into making a collective agreement. When asked what he hopes most to see in the new contract, Matthew said:

“We have a lot of language to clarify because otherwise the employer manipulates it whenever it’s left vague. It’s more significant than you’d think. We don’t want employers to bend language, we want our rights to be clear.”

The members and union reps have been thoroughly prepped for long negotiation sessions, because they know that everything they do, say, or otherwise communicate could have an impact on the outcome of the new contract. Thousands of fellow long-term care workers are depending on them now.

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