Employees of the Symphony Senior Living facility in Aspen Ridge continued on the picket line yesterday.
The strike began on Monday afternoon at the 154-bed centre located at 3100 22nd St. Workers were expected to walk off the job starting last Friday but that was postponed when the union and employer agreed to return to negotiations.
Alberta Union of Provincial Employees representatives negotiated with the employer through the weekend, but talks failed when Ontario-based Symphony Senior Living who operates Aspen Ridge, demanded the right to terminate any employee without cause, officials have said. Employees rejected the employer’s demand in a meeting with the union held Sunday afternoon.
“The seniors who reside at Aspen Ridge and every employee on their care team is being held hostage for a CEO’s demand to roll back the most basic of labour rights by 100 years,” said AUPE President Guy Smith. “This is what happens when you turn health care into an industry. This is what happens when long-term care becomes part of a Bay Street real estate investment portfolio.
“Symphony Senior Living is cutting corners in seniors’ care because they refuse to operate without a 30 to 40 per cent profit. That means spending less on caregivers and other essentials so they can reach those profits. Care needs to come first. That’s what these caregivers are fighting for. Aspen Ridge staff do important jobs that directly benefit Red Deer seniors at the facility every day. They deserve to be treated fairly and equally in their collective agreement,” Smith said. “They are not worth less simply because they work at Aspen Ridge.”
AUPE is filing for an emergency hearing with the Alberta Labour Relations Board. The union is alleging bad faith due to the employer forcing bargaining to an impasse over such a basic right.
“We are being forced onto the picket line to secure rights that are standard in every collective agreement in Canada. Overnight, seniors and their families will have to rely on strangers to provide them with care. It is madness,” Smith said. “It’s a fundamental principle that in unionized workplaces, employees accused of wrong-doing get the labour equivalent of their day in court. In all my life I never imagined we would be fighting to defend that right in the 21st century.”
‘Just cause’ provisions in collective agreements give employees the right to grieve discipline, up to and including termination, and see the discipline reversed or substituted with a lesser penalty if an arbitrator deems the employee innocent or otherwise finds fault in the employer’s reasons for the discipline.
Smith has also called on Premier Alison Redford to launch a public inquiry into the state of seniors’ health care and has requested an investigation by the Office of the Auditor General.
“The premier told us that Alberta’s budget is stretched to the breaking point, yet the province has handed over $600 million in capital grants, and hundreds of millions more in operating grants, to private seniors health corporations with no public transparency, scrutiny, or accountability. At the same time, beds are being closed in Red Deer, nurses are being laid off in Edmonton, and seniors care employees mark their seventh month locked out at Monterey Place in Calgary. Seniors are paying the price for all this chaos. It’s time for an inquiry into seniors’ care,” said Smith.
The call for action was spurred in part by events last week, including the announcement of 48 LPNs being laid off at Capital Care in Edmonton, the announcement of 49 seniors beds being closed in Red Deer by Symphony Senior Living, and 130 seniors health care employees being forced into a strike/lockout by the same company.
Staff at Aspen Ridge joined Alberta’s largest union in March 2011. Bargaining began in September 2011. The two sides entered mediation in September of 2012. Mediation concluded in November and caregivers voted in favour of strike action Jan. 2nd.