Ontario long-term care home lays off 60 unionized workers

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Image: CUPE

Bonnie Haley has been a personal support worker (PSW) at the Glen Hill Marnwood long-term care home in Bowmanville for 22 years. On Tuesday at around midnight, during her overnight shift, her employer, Durham Christian Homes, presented her with a layoff notice. 

Haley is one of 60 long-term care workers being laid off by the non-profit Durham Christian Homes simply because the home and its residents are relocating to a new building: Glen Hill Terrace Whitby. 

Ultimately, the 60 workers represent the entire bargaining unit of CUPE 2225-06/12. A portion of the layoff notices were issued Tuesday to workers whose seniority means they require 12 weeks notice. A second group of workers is expecting their layoff notice in four weeks time, according to CUPE Ontario and one of the workers being laid off. 

Their last day of work will be January 31, 2021, according to the notice, a copy of which was acquired by rabble.ca.

Through tears, Haley explained that even though she knew the notice was coming, it was still shocking to receive. She said she put on a brave face and continued the remainder of her shift with the home's residents in mind, trying not to worry them too much about the coming change.

"They're my family, I love them," Haley said. "They've been asking me a lot of questions because they can hear the talk, and I try not to answer because it's not fair that they get all worked up … It's hard enough for them."

Two other workers spoke with rabble.ca on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize their working relationship with their employer. Each of them also said residents are repeatedly asking them if they will be transferring to the new home with them. They are also receiving concerned questions from the families of residents, some of whom the workers know very well.

Upon receiving her notice, one worker said she felt a great deal of anger towards the company and called the layoffs a "shot in the back to save a few dollars."

The Glen Hill Marnwood residents will be moving to a newly constructed home in Whitby, also owned by Durham Christian Homes.

CUPE Ontario secretary treasurer Candace Rennick said the workers' collective agreement has a scope clause specifying that workers are covered by the agreement in Bowmanville. She said the company is using that clause to get away from the collective agreement in place.

Initially, Durham Christian Homes offered to carry its staff over to the new building, but demanded that there be concessions to the collective agreement, including wage freezes (red-circling), reduced benefits and the introduction of a two-tier pay system for new hires.

These were not concessions that CUPE was prepared to make, said Rennick. 

"CUPE national has a no-concessions bargaining policy. We don't represent members to take them backwards," she said.

Durham Christian Homes CEO Ruth McFarlane declined a request for an interview and refused to take questions by email, instead issuing a brief statement.

"Please be advised that we are currently in discussion with the union representing some of the Glen Hill Marnwood employees. It would be inappropriate at this time to provide a comment and/or release information to the public," McFarlane said in an email. 

The layoff notices issued Tuesday, a copy of which was obtained by rabble.ca read: "Although Durham Christian Homes offered to voluntarily recognize CUPE at the new Glen Hill Terrace site, we were unable to come to a mutual agreement. As a result ... your employment at Glen Hill Marnwood will cease." The letter was signed by McFarlane. 

The layoff notice indicated that workers are welcome to reapply for their jobs at the new building, but without a collective agreement in place. And, given their employers' proposed changes to the collective agreement, employees are anticipating that they will be offered lower wages, fewer benefits and less job security.

Haley said she will not be reapplying for her job as things currently stand. 

"Why would I go work for them after all my dedication and loyalty like ... just, no," she said. 

"I do not want to work for a company like this, that does this to front-line workers," said the employee working in housekeeping. 

Long-term care homes in Ontario and in Quebec have been major hotspots for COVID-19, raising many questions about the way private homes are being run, including issues of pay that often force PSWs to work in multiple locations.

Many, including Glen Hill Marnwood, have been operating with a shortage of PSWs during the pandemic as many of them hold multiple jobs, but had to choose only one location to work at to limit their exposure.

Glen Hill Marnwood has managed to avoid COVID-19 to date, but not without extra effort from staff and restrictive measures placed on residents.

"I think we all go above and beyond. We try to make things better for the residents and we've been working so hard amid short-staffed conditions [in the midst of] a raging pandemic," said one worker who has worked at the home for 10 years. 

Durham Christian Homes is a non-profit organization. However, McFarlane does sit on the board of the Ontario Long Term Care Association (OLTCA), where 10 of the 12 board members represent for-profit companies. The OLTCA has lobbied against staffing standards in the industry.

Rennick said the layoffs and the anticipated lower wages and benefits at the new building flies in the face of the reforms needed in long-term care homes to make them safer and healthier places to live and work.

In addition to the worker layoffs, the new Whitby location will also be contracting out ancillary services, including housekeeping and dietary staff. At the current location, food is prepared in-house, and the dietary staff know the residents' likes and dislikes, said one worker.

"They call themselves a Christian home. They say that they're resident-focused, and yet they're making all these cuts to make the residents' lives not really that great," said the worker who had worked in the home for 10 years.

Chelsea Nash is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2020. To contact her with story leads, email chelsea[at]rabble.ca.

Image: CUPE

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