Assisted living workers go on strike for fair wages

The assisted living workers went on strike after rejecting two agreements from their employers

Casa Loma Seniors Village and Comox Valley Seniors Village (CVSV) workers have started job action in hopes of fair wages and benefits.

The assisted living facilities are owned by Retirement Concepts, a company managed by Pacific Reach Seniors Housing Management. The facility is staffed by members of the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU).

According to Doreen Smith, BCGEU staff representative and negotiator, the company consistently pays some of the lowest wages in the Valley and across the Island.

“The members are standing in solidarity in order to improve healthcare for those seniors that are within the facilities,” she said, Sunday. “This is our first day. We’re doing just a couple jabs at the employer through the assisted living site – very short and sweet just to say we’re serious and we’re hoping that the employer will come to the plate with a better deal.”

According to Doreen, 93 per cent of union workers voted in favour of a strike after an agreement and a mediated agreement from Pacific Reach were both turned down by union workers.

Stephanie Smith, president of BCGEU, said Casa Loma and CVSV are both seeing recruitment issues brought on by low wages.

“It makes it extremely difficult to both recruit staff, but also to retain them,” she said. “For our members who are able to secure a position somewhere with Vancouver Island Health Authority, they’ll go because the pay is better, the benefits are better, they get a pension – those are the things that are missing at this facility.”

She adds that the wages range depending on the job classification, but Casa Loma and CVSV pay two to three dollars an hour less than other similar facilities.

The agreements differ for each Retirement Concepts location, and Casa Loma and CVSV, who are both under the same collective agreement, are the only facilities taking job action.

According to Stephanie, two other well-being seniors care facilities located in Surrey – Peace Portal Seniors Village and Rosemary Heights Seniors Village – recently took strike votes, but both reached tentative agreements without having to take job action. The tentative agreements still need to be ratified by BCGEU members.

“In fact 99 per cent of the time, even if a strike vote is taken, no job action happens,” she said. “In this case, unfortunately, the employer has not seen fit to address the outstanding issues.”

Casa Loma and CVSV employees are taking what Stephanie calls “targetted action,” meant to ensure the seniors continue to receive proper care while still sending a message to the employer.

“The job actions that our members are taking are very thoughtful, they’re very strategic. We want to negate serious impact to the residents as their care is always top of mind,” said Stephanie, adding that different non-essential departments will be doing rotating strikes to minimize the impact on daily operations.

Jennie Deneka, chief operating officer with Pacific Reach, said she is confident the seniors will continue to receive care and services under the Province’s essential service legislation while the company works towards an agreement with the union.

“The current collective agreement between Pacific Reach Seniors Housing Management and the BCGEU at these communities had expired and Pacific Reach is committed to negotiating in good faith to reach a fair and reasonable collective agreement as soon as possible,” she said in a statement.

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