Calling all families of homecare

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When I was 11 years old, there was a fire at my house and my little sister, who was 10 at the time was badly burned. 80% of her body was covered with scar tissue and it took a lot of sensitive skin grafting to heal her. Afterwards, I took care of her. I helped with her physio, changed her dressings, prepared her medications because she couldn’t do it for herself and help her dress. As a burn victim she had to wear special clothing all over her entire body.

That’s why I became a PSW. Through caring for my sister, I found I wanted to help others. Someone has to do it. This happened in the mid-1980s and there weren’t homecare services like we have today. As a front line PSW I can give people the assistance they need to keep their lifestyles as they were before the ailment hit them. Andy Elliot, Personal Support Worker

The truth is, many of us probably don’t even realize that homecare impacts us. But think about your neighbours, parents, grandparents and friends. How do they survive day to day? Chances are they are a homecare recipient. In other words, someone comes to their home on a regular basis to support their living, whether it’s a bath, cleaning up after them, feeding them, doing their laundry, and so on (though we know that homecare workers do so much more than that).

When was the last time you checked in to see what type of care your loved ones have received? Often times we don’t, because we are confident that our families are receiving some of the best care under the wing of frontline homecare workers such as Andy.

Andy’s story above is one of the many reasons why it’s important we, as a collective whole, rise for homecare. People who are or will be impacted by homecare are all around you: the person sitting next to you on the bus, driving alongside you on the highway, standing in front of you in the lunch line- all of these folks either know someone who has received homecare or will one day need these services themselves. But PSWs aren’t the only ones with stories- families of homecare have some of the most touching accounts. That’s why we are calling on families of homecare to come forward and join the movement. Tell us how your life has been impacted by homecare; it’s time we hear from you.

 
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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.