A near unanimous vote has put the union representing close to 130 employees at a Red Deer seniors living facility in a strike position.
On Wednesday, licensed practical nurses, health-care aides and support staff at Aspen Ridge — represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees — voted in favour of strike action.
AUPE president Guy Smith said on Thursday that the employees are committed to giving families 72-hour notice prior to any strike action at the Symphony Senior Living facility at 3100 22nd St.
“It’s not the preferred approach by any means,” said Smith. “We would much prefer to get a negotiated agreement and we will continue negotiations with the employer. But I think the message is very clear that the workers’ frustration level is at the point they will take strike action if necessary.”
In a statement, Kim Van Dam, Symphony Senior Living vice-president of operations, said from Toronto that they are not surprised there has been a vote approving strike action.
“This is a common outcome and it does not mean there will be a strike,” she said.
“We think a strike is not in the interest of our employees.”
The two sides have been negotiating an agreement since 2011 and Van Dam said there has been much progress made in that time. They are scheduled for another mediation meeting on Jan. 16.
Smith said the sticking point in the negotiations so far has been salaries.
“Symphony, a company out of Ontario, has made it clear they want to maintain a 30 to 40 per cent profit margin to make their operation viable,” said Smith, adding the employer refuses to pay staff the industry standard wages.
Van Dam said while there has been general agreement on wages for most of the classifications employed at Aspen Ridge, AUPE is seeking significant pay increases for one classification in particular, about 40 per cent in less than five years for health-care aides.
“Such a pay increase would be unreasonable for most businesses and we need to protect our residents from cost increases,” she said.
“As most residents at Aspen Ridge do not receive any government funding, Aspen Ridge is not in the same market as other facilities with which AUPE is bargaining.”
Symphony receives some funding from Alberta Health Services as well as from the residents.
The union members, if they choose to strike, will offer life and limb support to residents in cases of emergencies. Smith said, while they are mindful of the care that residents at the facility require, it is on the employer to come up with a contingency plan for the residents’ care.
In the statement, Symphony said they are fully prepared in the event of a work stoppage to ensure there is no interruption in services to residents.
The company also owns and operates Symphony Senior Living Inglewood in Red Deer but that facility is not affected by the dispute.