(File photo courtesy © CanStockPhoto.com/Leaf)

If they could, Extendicare workers would strike

Extendicare workers at 10 nursing homes, including London, Chatham, and Windsor have voted in favour of strike action.

Sort of.

The workers are not allowed to strike. The Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act prohibits strikes and lock-outs for unionized workers at hospitals and long-term care homes, but when asked to vote on the question, “if it were legal for you to strike, would you be prepared to do so for a fair contract”, 96 per cent said they would.

The workers are represented by Unifor, which said the vote is symbolic of the extreme frustration health care workers feel.

Unifor started collective bargaining with Extendicare in April, but talks broke down last month over monetary proposals. The workers’ contract expires at the end of July.

The union has contracts at 90 other nursing homes that also expire this year and anticipates similar issues.

“Our members working for Extendicare work short-staffed on a daily basis which prevents them from providing the care their residents deserve,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias.

Dias said the company must address the poor working conditions that have led to a massive shortage of personal support workers across Ontario. In addition to staffing shortages, he cites low pay.

“It doesn’t surprise me that an overwhelming majority of Extendicare workers would vote in favour of striking,” said Unifor’s Health Care Director Andy Savela. “The deplorable working conditions, including working short-staffed daily, has led to many personal support workers to burn out and leave the field altogether.”

BlackburnNews.com reached out to lawyers representing the company, but have not received a reply.

The problem is altogether the fault of the company. The union concedes the Ontario government provides fewer resources to long-term care and compensates those workers less than any other province. The issue is further complicated by the Ford government’s move to freeze public sector wages.

Unifor has already presented the Ford government with a list of demands to address staffing shortages in long-term care including making changes to the Long-Term Care Homes Act legislating a minimum of four-hours care per resident, greater funding, and more staff.

Along with Ontario Health Coalition, Unifor has been hosting round-table meetings on the shortage of PSWs across Ontario. They are expected to release a report on the shortage in September.