“Paying my dues to elderly and vulnerable folks”

SEIU Healthcare member Handel Dockery grew up in Jamaica in a family of 10 children and no father. He is now a 65-year-old Canadian, a father with 7 kids of his own, and working as a community care personal support worker (PSW) in Burlington. He is a strong man, but like all of us, he had some help getting to where he is today.

Handel Dockery

“I’ve done many things in my life. I decided I would become a PSW when I really understood what the work was. The people we were serving were working their jobs and paying their taxes and helped me when I was in need. I feel very happy about what I’m doing because I’m paying my dues to society that those older and vulnerable folks deserve to have from me.”

The encouragement of friends recently inspired Handel to write a book about his life.

He has seen many things in between his childhood in Jamaica and the life he lives in Ontario now – working without papers as a farmer in the United States, coming to Canada on the run, starting a construction business, losing much of its possessions in a fire. But he persevered with writing his life’s story in Handel: My Journey to a Better Life. To find out more details, you’ll have to order it, or go see Handel in person at his first book signing at the Hamilton Indigo store on Saturday, September 5, 12-5 p.m.

As a young immigrant to Canada in the 1970s, Handel says he was given many opportunities to further his education in the form of government grants and loans. He has been forever grateful for that assistance and to the people who paid into the social safety net that benefited him at the time.

He’s been working as a PSW for 20 years. The downside of the job, Handel says, is that PSWs don’t get paid enough for what they do.

But here’s the upside:

“There’s a great satisfaction in knowing that you are helping those that are vulnerable and really need your service.”

The helpfulness genes seem to run in the family. One of his kids is a teacher, another a social worker. Handel says of them all: “I’m very proud of them.” You might say this story has a happy ending.

G.W.

Personal support worker on bargaining committee representing 16,000 people

Stephaney Williams is a personal support worker at a long-term care home in east Scarborough, where she has worked 7am-3pm for 29 years, taking care of elderly residents.

She decided to take her involvement at work to the next step by getting involved with her union.

Stephaney Williams

“I saw the work that stewards were doing and thought it could be interesting to get involved and advocate for my members. I became the chief steward and I’ve been doing it for ten years.”

Stephaney also sits on her health and safety committee at work. There are more than 200 staff members there.

We spoke with Stephaney after a week-long bargaining session. The negotiations between her union SEIU Healthcare, representing 16,000 retirement and nursing home employees, and a combined 100 nursing and retirement homes, will be in official mediation as of August 29.

She was there as part of the union’s bargaining committee.

“We have a great team. This year there are some new faces, younger faces. I think it’s great, they are our future. It’s nice that they were able play a role, by getting what they want to see in the contract to make it better for all our members.”

Stephaney is a realist.

“I will tell my co-workers it’s been a great experience, it’s nice to be able to have a say with our collective agreement and to have something positive to bring back. You cannot bring back everything, you’re not going to get all the items, but the important things are what you spend most of the time on and focus on.”

“The bargaining process is very trying and tiring. But for the most part, we’re progressing.”

You are not alone: tackling problems in healthcare workplaces

Christine Purdy

I am a union organizer and I hear from healthcare workers who have problems in the workplace. For anyone who has struggled with difficult conditions and situations at work, this will resonate with you.

Healthcare workers that I encounter often feel that their work life is very stressful, is giving them anxiety, or is pushing them into a decision to quit. A common hodgepodge of challenges workers experience is:  lack of respect, low wages, no voice, no seniority, no transparency, no job security, bullying, and favouritism. As a result, life outside of work becomes the collateral damage from the stresses at work: living from paycheque-to-paycheque, having to take a second or third job to make ends meet, having anxiety and stress, arguing with their partner, serious health problems…

SEIU Healthcare workers

How and why do these kind of conditions exist in the healthcare field? How can healthcare professionals take care of someone else for a living when they are not being taken care of themselves?

Let me give you an example of the type of situation that I hear about. I recently spoke to a personal support worker (PSW) from cottage country who said that their employer is so cheap that the PSWs are given sandwich gloves to care for residents. Really?! Sandwich gloves?! They were told that if they wanted different gloves they could buy them off management for $4 a box. Wow. Just think about the communicable diseases PSWs are exposed to every day. When not provided the proper equipment they are at risk of contamination possibly compromising the health of residents and bringing that exposure home to their family. To spend money out-of-pocket for proper supplies that the company should be providing? Unfair.

At this point when a worker tells me their story, they express hopelessness and despair about ever escaping their situation. I tell them there is a solution and that thousands of healthcare workers are taking action to change things. They are getting together and forming a union to gain a voice, respect, legal bargaining rights, and in essence, their dignity back. Typically, here’s what happens when workers express that they want to form a union:

  • they talk to their co-workers about the situation at work
  • co-workers agree that things need to improve and join the efforts to form a union
  • once the workers have gained enough support, a vote is triggered at the Labour Board and workers cast a secret ballot in favor of forming their union

One can imagine how employers react when they discover employees have joined forces as a united front to take back some control over their working conditions. Employers push back because they enjoy having complete control over everything at the workplace and don’t want that to change. They know that forming a union will give staff the legal right to bargain for better conditions through the Labour Board. This is some examples of what they will do:

  • distribute anti-union letters or emails to staff
  • confuse staff with corporate-biased “facts” about all unions
  • intimidate staff
  • make promises to change

Here’s an example of the type of problem that can arise when workers decide to form a union, and how working together as a group can stand up to the challenge. Staff from a retirement home from southwestern Ontario contacted us because management did not take their concerns seriously (and would go even as far as laugh at them) when they brought issues like proper staffing levels or not having enough cutlery to feed all the residents. Staff was promised a raise when resident capacity increased. Once target capacity was reached, management then changed the conditions and said that the staff would get a raise when the number occupied suites increased. When that was achieved, management did give staff a raise, but only one quarter of the amount originally promised. These healthcare workers had enough and began to form their union.

When management found out and thought they figured out who was championing worker rights, they terminated the person the day before they were expecting a baby. Fortunately, that is completely illegal and a worker’s right to form a union is protected by the Ontario Labour Relations Act. SEIU Healthcare stood by this worker. Not only did the union help them get their job back, but they received back pay for time missed, protection from future termination, and neutrality from the employer about the union drive. The end result? The staff voted unanimously to form their union!

Maybe the boss didn’t listen before, but once the workers formed a union? There is no ignoring issues now. This is the first step in how healthcare workers can overcome adversity and ignore the boss’s attempts to intimidate.

I love the relationships and bonds that I build throughout the union drive. I hear story upon story of how healthcare workers are mistreated and undervalued. I am proud of what I do because I help find hope for the hopeless, help empower workers to take back control of their working situation, and in the end, help change their lives for the better.  I am a union organizer and I love what I do.

Behavioural Supports soothe dementia patients

With the numerous problems faced by and within Ontario’s nursing homes, we are used to sad stories about long-term care.

That’s why it was a very pleasant surprise to hear from Nancy Waddle, a Behavioural Supports worker at Sienna Barnswallow Place Care Community in Elmira, Ontario, about the open and collaborative atmosphere at her workplace.

“I absolutely love it there,” said Nancy without hesitation, about the nursing home where she’s been a caregiver since 2012. “I would send any of my loves ones to my nursing home.”

Nancy Waddle

Nancy credits in part the management team for the quality of the home. She says they treat the employees with respect. It’s a different environment than her last workplace, a privately owned nursing home. What’s important, she says, is that “I believe that when I speak, I’m heard.”

Behavioural Supports of Ontario is a funding initiative by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and it created Nancy’s job. She works directly with residents on their mental health, finding creative solutions to soothe people when they’re upset or acting out.

Nancy’s passion for her residents and work is palpable. Her favourite place is on the Alzheimer’s floor. She tells a story about one resident that she sees regularly. When they wake up around 5 a.m. asking to go home, Nancy takes the time to remind them that they are safe, that this is their home. She gives them puzzles to work on so they have something to do.

For other patients who don’t want to do certain things like take a bath, she figures out how to convince them it’s a good idea.

“It’s all about dignity and respect,” says Nancy. “The residents remember your smile and how you made them feel.”

We caught up with Nancy during a week-long bargaining session in Richmond Hill, where as part of a bargaining committee she is helping negotiate a new contract for around 16,000 nursing and retirement home workers across Ontario.Whether you’re at the bargaining table or living in a nursing home, it’s clear that you want Nancy and her coworkers at Barnswallow Place on your team.

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.

On this International Youth Day, think about the vote!

Greg Dwulit

We celebrate Mother’s Day. We celebrate Father’s Day. But what about International Youth day?

International Youth Day

International Youth Day (IYD) is a little different than Father’s or Mother’s Day. The purpose of Youth Day is to draw a spotlight on issues that young people face throughout the world.

This year’s theme is “Youth Civic Engagement.” Very few of our youth are involved in the civic or political activities. A small percentage volunteer for a political party, join a NGO, charitable work, or other activities. That’s why governments, the United Nations, NGOs, regional and multilateral organizations, CSOs, young leaders and researchers are trying to motivate greater numbers of people into civic activities.

Young people who are more involved in politics, NGOs, charities and elements of civic life are more likely to enjoy a better quality of life. On average they earn more money, are better educated and stronger advocates for youth issues. A society functions better with youth who are engaged and involved in their society. This is essential to achieving sustainable human development. But the opportunities for young people to engage politically, economically and socially are low or non-existent in some places.

This needs to change. We need to raise awareness about the importance of youth engagement and how society benefits. This year’s youth day promises to get young people involved in civic life. They need to be empowered to bring a full contribution to society, development and peace.

An easy way for young Canadians to get involved in civics is to vote in the upcoming federal election, expected to take place in October this year. For more information about the youth vote in the next election, visit Election Canada’s website.

SEIU Healthcare also gives young people an opportunity to get involved with their union. The union’s EMERG committee’s goal is to transform young SEIU members into strong leaders who play an important role in politics and civic life. If you are an SEIU Healthcare member between the ages of 18-35 and would like to join the EMERG committee, please call 1-877-672-7348, or email politics@seiuhealthcare.ca.

For more information about Youth Day, check out the United Nation’s website.

What happens when you are hurt at work?

Did you know that if you are an employee in Ontario and you are injured at work, in many cases you are entitled to either modified work or financial compensation?

Healthcare is dangerous work

When you have any kind of workplace injury, there are forms to fill out by both the worker and the employer. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) then makes a decision about whether to allow the claim.

It is against the law for an employer to punish a worker for making an injury claim.

One of the advantages to belonging to a union in Canada is free representation when there is a disagreement at the WSIB. Plus, unions advise the WSIB on policy changes, fighting for the workers’ right to appeal decisions.

“We’re trying to make sure the workers get the best coverage that they’re entitled to,” says Brenda Snider, WSIB representative for SEIU Healthcare members.

Take the case of Violet, a personal support worker (PSW) working in a long-term care unit near Haliburton, where she had lived for nearly 15 years in 2009. That’s when she suffered a repetitive stress injury to her shoulder. Physiotherapy wasn’t working, so she went to the WSIB for help.

The WSIB retrained her for office administration. When no jobs were available in her home area, they said she should move with her husband to the GTA to look there instead.

That didn’t seem fair at all, so Violet reached out to her union representative and SEIU Healthcare for help with the appeals process.

Violet was a typical dedicated homecare PSW. “I loved my job,” she told us. “I felt it was an honour to be entrusted with the care of someone else’s loved ones.”

But after the injury, she could no longer meet the physical demands of personal support work.

Her initial claim was denied, but finally, after a few years, in April 2015, the appeals tribunal awarded Violet with a fair benefit that she can now live on.

When a WSIB decision comes in, the worker, if not in agreement with the decision, has six months to appeal.

If you have received a decision from the WSIB that doesn’t seem right to you, get in contact with your union rep and they will help you through the process.

It is important that workers go through their union rep, says Brenda, because there is an important appeals readiness form that needs to be carefully prepared. “We have to make sure we have all our ducks in a row when that form goes in.”

Unfortunately, it can be difficult and time-consuming to receive decisions on workplace injuries that are favourable to workers. But if you don’t have a union to represent you, it is even harder.

Without a union, individuals “have to find and pay for someone to represent them, which can be quite a cost. Some members don’t know that you can avoid these fees,” says Brenda.

“You pay dues for this service.”

Non-union workers in Ontario may qualify for free help at the Office of the Worker Adviser.