2 years later: remembering the homecare strike

Homecare - the journey continues

We’re nearing the end of 2015 and it’s been 2 years since what we call around here “the Red Cross strike.”

$12.50/hour. At the time, that was the minimum wage for homecare personal support workers (PSWs)—the people who support you, listen to you, check in on you and help you with activities of daily living when you need extra help to live independently at home.

And PSWs weren’t getting the respect they deserved either. Contract negotiation after contract negotiation, they were offered either nothing at all, or tiny raises. Given the cost of living, and given the fact that most PSWs use their own vehicles and don’t get paid in between client visits, this was unsustainable.

Our members felt they had to do what no care provider ever wants to do, and went on strike. About 4,500 homecare workers across the province were taking a stand.

2013 Red Cross strike

President Sharleen Stewart keeps spirits up on the picket line in Bancroft in 2013

It was the holiday season and a very cold and snowy winter. The strike lasted for two weeks, and finally came to an end on Christmas Eve when the employer agreed to arbitration.

The strike challenged everyone. It challenged workers to show up to the picket line and stand in solidarity. It challenged union leadership to find an appropriate and fair resolution as quickly as possible. It challenged the media to care about these individuals who are some of the lowest paid healthcare workers out there. It challenged homecare clients and families to support their PSWs even though they weren’t getting the service they deserved while their PSWs were out on strike.

And it challenged the Ontario government to take PSWs seriously and recognize the incredible value they bring to the healthcare system.

Thanks to those who stood up, and thanks to those who have gotten engaged in politics as part of SEIU Healthcare’s “purple party,” over 30,000 PSWs got raises from the government, and the minimum wage for PSWs in 2016 will be $16.50/hour as a result of our Sweet $16 campaign.

Throughout this process, SEIU Healthcare members have advocated for Ontarians to Rise for Homecare. For this reason, when we heard the news that the homecare system is undergoing restructuring in an effort to provide more streamlined care to clients, we were naturally thrilled. This time of year brings about feelings of hope and faith, and it’s announcements like this that make us feel as though we are moving forward in homecare; more importantly, that we are recognizing that frontline workers and homecare recipients deserve better.

Change is happening.

We are glad our homecare members will be warm inside this winter, but we think of those who were out on the picket lines two years ago, and all workers who are standing up today for what they deserve – it is thanks to these individuals and their solidarity that we are able to make progress together.

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