By Zaid Noorsumar
Part 8 of our Special Investigation into OPSWA
The Ontario Personal Support Workers Association maintains a private Facebook group of 12,000 members. It is one of the main, regular platforms of communication between OPSWA president Miranda Ferrier and PSWs. During my investigation of OPSWA, I found multiple examples of her spreading misinformation. Here are four major examples in bold, with a response written to each.
The only official association for PSWs is OPSWAMiranda Ferrier, April 16 2020
This is simply not true. There is no “official” association for personal support workers in Ontario.
We are not deemed an essential service because we are not regulatedMiranda Ferrier, January 2020
This statement was made in January 2020, when CarePartners had imposed a blatantly unfair contract on its home care workers represented by the union SEIU. After a long and largely fruitless campaign, the SEIU was considering an application for home care workers to be deemed “essential” by having them included in Hospital Disputes Labour Arbitration Act (HLDAA).
HLDAA is a unique law in Ontario that prevents hospital and long-term care workers from going on legal strike. Instead, when the employer and the union cannot reach an agreement at the bargaining table, the two parties are forced into binding arbitration.
This process of being deemed “essential” has nothing to do with regulation of professions. The HLDAA does not distinguish between types of hospital or long-term care workers. Instead, Ferrier’s comment directs frustrated PSWs towards the OPSWA’s goal of achieving regulation. This statement is clearly a lie and a very misleading one at that. Regulation has nothing to do with “essential” status.
We cannot strike as we can be charged with abandonment…unfortunately it’s a double-edged swordMiranda Ferrier, January 2020
As explained earlier, HLDAA prevents workers in hospitals and long-term care from striking. However, the law does not apply to PSWs and other workers in home care.
Ferrier has used this scare tactic before during the 2013 PSW strike against CarePartners, a for-profit home care company and OPSWA partner. In that instance, Ferrier equated striking with “patient abandonment”. Nevertheless, the 2013 strike was instrumental in forcing the Ontario Liberal government to raise the minimum wage for PSWs in home care. No PSWs were ever charged with “abandonment” during the 2013 home care strike.
“That information is wrong,” says Natalie Mehra of Ferrier’s comment. Mehra is the executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition. “And very clearly they [OPSWA] have been advocating for a regulatory body and have constructed a whole justification for it.”
“I think the thing people need to be wary of is people who empire-build without actually doing the job that they’re supposed to be doing. If you’re supposed to be representing PSWs, and if you’re supposed to be advocating for improved conditions, and improved quality of life and quality of work for them, and so on, then you have to do that job. I mean, you can build an empire while you’re doing it, but you still have to do that job. And that means supporting the calls for things that actually improve the quality of life and the quality of work for those women.”
Change can only happen with self-regulation. There is literally no other wayMiranda Ferrier, January 2020
This is a very debatable viewpoint. OPSWA promotes self-regulation of PSWs by pointing out better compensation for other regulated professions such as nurses. But according to research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, even nurses are facing more precarious conditions due to healthcare underfunding.
Mehra from the Health Coalition says the historical context was very different when nurses, physicians and other professionals in the health sector benefited from regulation.
She says that the circumstances are much different now given the nature of today’s political economy, whereby corporatization has led to stagnant wages and deregulation, and public spending is restrained.
She says that better compensation “does not necessarily follow from just having a regulatory body.” She questions how and why employers would automatically improve wages and conditions because of a new regulatory body. “There is no connection there,” she says.
“Anyone that wants to improve the lives of PSWs needs to support the efforts of their unions, to give them better contracts, the right to strike and workplace actions and a very consistent, credible voice,” Mehra says. “And that is not primarily about building an organization, but actually about improving the lives of PSWs.”
How does change happen?
Although Ferrier opposes strikes, the strike remains an incredibly powerful weapon for workers, even when it is illegal. For instance, it was civil disobedience – including illegal strikes – that forced the Canadian government in 1872 to legislate the first Trade Union Act.
It was persistent labour agitation that compelled the entrenched establishment to concede social programs, including medicare, unemployment insurance and social assistance.
In other words, change happens through disruption. There is literally no other way.
This article is Part 8 of our Special Investigation into OPSWA