by Zaid Noorsumar
CarePartners, a for-profit home care company, is imposing a new contract on nearly 3,000 workers in Ontario that has been effectively rejected by the bargaining committee during negotiations.
For some workers, the new contract will result in an effective pay cut worth several thousand dollars. The workforce comprises predominantly women, many of whom are racialized immigrants.
Refusing to budge on negotiations
Bargaining between Service International Employees Union (SEIU) and CarePartners began in January 2019 but resulted in a deadlock after nearly 11 months of negotiations. The last ratified contract expired in March 2019.
According to SEIU, the employer refused to budge on several key issues throughout the bargaining process. CarePartners has denied adequate wage increases, refused to provide paid sick days, and ignored workers’ concerns about pervasive health and safety issues.
In November, the employer filed a “no-board,” which placed both parties in a legal position to either lockout or strike.
Using the lockout as a threat, CarePartners is forcing its employees to work under the terms of the last offer it tabled at the bargaining table.
The union has filed an unfair labour practice complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
Huge loss for some workers
A pay stub obtained by Rankandfile.ca shows a Quinte region worker received over $5,000 in 2019 for travel pay. Under the employer-imposed contract, the same amount of travelling would net her about $1,200.
Workers operating from the Quinte and Timmins branches were the last remaining CarePartners employees still paid hourly wages while traveling between clients.
However, based on CarePartners’ imposed contract, this base travel wage of $14/hour to $15.44/hour has been eliminated and replaced with the company’s now standard formula of a minute’s pay for every three kilometers traveled.
Meagre wage increases
About 60 per cent of the workers earn $16.50/hour while a senior cohort of employees receives $19/hour. Neither group has earned a pay increase since 2016.
For those earning the lower rate, the new contract bumps them up to $17 but strips them of accumulated seniority.
“They’ll have to re-accrue seniority to move up the wage grid. So it’ll take them eight years to get to $19,” says Tali Zrehen, SEIU spokesperson.
Those currently at $19 will get a 10 cent raise by 2021, she says.
Health and safety issues
Zrehen says that workers face all types of health and safety challenges during home visits, from dealing with uncleared snowy driveways to bed bugs and dog bites.
She says injuries are very common. The lack of monitoring and regulation leaves workers to fend for themselves.
“There are clients who are physically or sexually abusive towards our members,” she says. “There are also issues with family in the home being abusive to members.”
The union has proposed several solutions on the bargaining table to no avail, says Zrehen.
Race to the bottom
Until the mid-1990s, the vast majority of home care providers were unionized non-profits who operated as a network of charitable services.
That changed when the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Mike Harris introduced “managed competition.” The non-profits were forced to compete against for-profits for government contracts across the province.
In many cases for-profits outbid the non-profits by lowering their labour costs. Some non-profits had to shut down in communities where they had delivered services for decades. To survive competitive bidding, non-profit providers began to mimic the for-profits.
Stable, unionized work gave way to precarious working conditions – long and unpredictable hours, inadequate compensation for travel and split-shifts.
Predictably, clients lost personal support workers (PSWs) they had been accustomed to for years. Nurses and PSWs moved to long-term care homes and hospitals for better wages, or quit the healthcare sector altogether.
Today, the home care industry reflects the restructuring in the 1990s. For-profits provide the majority of services but in many cases the non-profits are not a lot better.
According to SEIU, CarePartners is one of the worst employers the union deals with. And yet, it is one of only two providers contracted to provide services across all 14 regional health authorities, the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs).
The CEO and owner of CarePartners, Linda Knight, has earned the distrust and indignation from the employees. Knight is also the chair of Home Care Ontario, the powerful association that represents for-profit providers. Perhaps it is fitting that the ruthlessness which has shaped the sector is best exhibited by her firm.
As one worker put it, “CarePartners is a brutal, brutal company.”