By Zaid Noorsumar
Part 1 of our Special Investigation into OPSWA
PSWs have always fought and struggled for dignity and respect and to improve care and working conditions. In December 2013, Ontario PSWs struck for these reasons against Red Cross/Care Partners, a very large home care operator. The PSWs were members of SEIU Healthcare, one of the larger Ontario unions in home care and long-term care.
Those involved in the strike are proud of their action, which they say influenced the Liberal government’s 2014 wage enhancement for home care workers across Ontario.
Home care workers earn poverty wages and are the lowest paid across the health sector. So when the government-funded, for-profit employer Red Cross/Care Partners, offered the workers 11 cents more in 2013, The workers decided they had had enough.
On the picket line, striking PSWs expected support from their allies. Some of the workers I spoke with say that Miranda Ferrier, the Ontario Personal Support Workers Association president and founder, accused them of patient abandonment.
Back then, OPSWA was still a relatively new organization, having been formed in 2010. It was – as it is now – a beacon of hope for many personal support workers (PSWs), who are among the most exploited in Canada’s healthcare sector.
“I was so excited at first when I saw that there was a PSW Association,” says Tammy Lynn-Ladoucer, one of the workers involved in the 2013 strike. “I thought, ‘Great. We need something like this.’ And then when she was so anti-worker, that really threw me for a loop.”
OPSWA’s opposition to the 2013 strike
Finding evidence for claims made seven years ago is generally challenging. I was able to corroborate the testimonies of Lynn-Ladoucer and others by searching for posts in OPSWA’s Facebook group, which is closed to the public.
Ferrier deleted her comments on the strike, but Lynn-Ladoucer’s responses to her comments are still visible, and they clearly show OPSWA’s position at the time.
Lynn-Ladoucer and many of her colleagues have been wary of OPSWA ever since. And for good reason.
OPSWA has chosen to partner with CarePartners. (After the 2013 strike, Red Cross home care was wholly merged under the CarePartners name).
In 2019, Lynn-Ladoucer had another harrowing experience with CarePartners during 10 months at the bargaining table. She describes CarePartners as having utter disrespect for its staff.
CarePartners refused to negotiate in good faith. In one incident at a labour board hearing, Lynn-Ladoucer said CarePartners representatives berated the workers. “They said we only drink tea and hold hands [with patients]”. At one point, CarePartners even imposed a terrible contract on the workers before ultimately backing down.
SEIU told me that they were the worst employer they dealt with in home care. At the time of the 2019 negotiations, Linda Knight, the CarePartners CEO was also the Chair of the board of Home Care Ontario, which mainly represents for-profit employers.
As I’ve written elsewhere, Home Care Ontario is an anti-union and anti-worker organization that is so contemptuous of workers’ rights it welcomed Bill 47, the Ontario PC bill that rolled back labour law reforms passed by the Liberals.
Ferrier and the OPSWA continue to maintain a relationship with CarePartners. It is no wonder strike veterans of 2013 are deeply distrustful of and angry with the OPSWA.
This article is Part 1 of our Special Investigation into OPSWA