Edmonton care home workers to vote on 5% wage increase

Plus, they are voting on shift premiums, as well as changes to rest periods, maternity leave, and sick leave.

Last week, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees published an update on contract negotiations between their members working at the Riverbend Retirement Residence in Edmonton and Revera, the Ontario-based corporation that owns the facility.

The workers, which belong to local 47 and include licensed practical nurses and health care aides, have been without a contract since their previous one expired at the end of December 2020.

Negotiations have been very slow, including the employer switching out the members of their bargaining team multiple times.

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The employer had asked the workers to enter into a 3-year contract, with a 5¢ an hour increase to shift premiums and a 4.75% wage increase over the entire term of their contract, which would expire at the end of this year anyhow, if accepted.

This past April, the union called these wage increases “completely unacceptable” and “incredibly disrespectful”.

Spread out over 3 years, the proposed 4.75% wage increase would’ve average out to 1.58% per year. Inflation in Alberta last year was 6% and 4.8% in 2021. This proposal wouldn’t even be enough to cover the inflation for the first year of the contract, let alone inflation last year and this year.

The workers’ bargaining team countered, asking for a 25¢ an hour increase to shift premiums. They also want a 4-year contract instead of a 3-year one, and asked for a 7.5% wage increase during that same period.

While 7.5% seems way more significant than the 4.75% proposed by Revera, the fact that it’s for an additional year means that it averages out to just 1.88% a year, barely more than what Revera asked for. Like the employer’s proposal, this one will be insufficient for workers to be able to deal with inflation over the last two years, in addition to inflation this year and in 2024.

After months of negotiations, the workers’ negotiating team managed to bargain for that 25¢ increase to shift premiums; however they fell short of the 7.5% increase, settling for 5.0% instead.

The union chose to accept this lower increase because Revera is getting out of the retirement housing business and selling several properties, including this one, to Montréal-based Cogir. They were uncomfortable with the uncertainty the transition could have on negotiations if they continued refusing to make concessions on this inadequate pay raise.

AUPE hopes that since the new contract expires in less than 3 months anyhow, they can ratify this agreement and start negotiations fresh with Cogir on the next contract.

In addition to the pay raises, workers will be eligible for a lump sum payment: $200 if they’re full time and $100 if they’re part-time.

However, the worker’s bargaining team also proposed raising the floor on wages for several positions.

The tentative agreement also contains changes to rest periods. Under the previous agreement, workers were permitted 1 15-minute break for every 3.75 hours of work. If ratified, the new contract would give workers 1 15-minute break if they work 4 hours or more and 2 15-minut breaks if they work 7 hours or more.

As well, previously, any workers having to do a double shift were supposed to be provided access to a meal during the second shift at no cost. That is still in the contract, but now if the meal isn’t provided or available, they worker can purchase a meal themself and be reimbursed up to $20 for that meal.

If ratified, the new contract will see increase to shift premiums.

LPNs and health care aides would see their evening shift premium increase from $2.00 an hour to $2.25 an hour and the night shift premium increase from $2.50 an hour to $2.75 an hour during the week. Their weekend day shift premium would increase from $2.00 to $2.25 an hour, weekend evening shift from $3.00 to $3.25 an hour, and weekend night shift from $4.00 to $4.25 an hour.

Everyone else would see their premiums change from $.50 to $1.75 for hours worked between 19:00 and 07:00 the following morning, as well as from $2.00 to $2.25 for hours worked on Saturdays and Sundays.

The new agreement would allow workers to carry up to 6 days worth of unused sick leave to the following year. There was no carryover allowed under the previous contract.

Maternity leave under the new contract, if ratified, can begin up to 13 weeks prior to the estimated due date. It was 12 weeks under the previous contract.

Life insurance and accidental death and dismemberment insurance would increase from $30,000 to $50,000 under the new agreement.

The ratification vote will take place between 11:00 and 16:00 on Wednesday, October 11, in the Melange Room of the Riverbend facility.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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