Symphony strike starts today

Strike action will begin at a seniors facility in Red Deer today after negotations failed over the weekend.

Strike action will begin at a seniors facility in Red Deer today after negotations failed over the weekend.

The 130 employees of the Aspen Ridge seniors facility, located at 3100 22nd St., will be on a picket line beginning at 1 p.m.

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees representatives negotiated with the employer through the weekend, but talks failed when they said Symphony Senior Living demanded the right to terminate any employee without cause. Employees rejected the employer’s demand in a meeting with the union held Sunday afternoon.

“The seniors who reside at Aspen Ridge and every employee on their care team is being held hostage for a CEO’s demand to roll back the most basic of labour rights by 100 years,” said AUPE President Guy Smith in a news release late Sunday afternoon. “This is what happens when you turn health care into an industry. This is what happens when long-term care becomes part of a Bay Street real estate investment portfolio.”

In a news release on Sunday, Symphony Senior Living reported that it had continued a good faith, flexible approach to the discussions. It agreed to significant wage increases, generous severance plans, minimal changes to employee benefits, seniority preferences, and many more pro-employee terms.

But the unresolved matter centre’s on the company’s restriction to remove a worker for non-cause reasons such as lack of empathy, passion or dedication to seniors.

“Sometimes employees are hired only to discover the job is a bad fit,” said Lisa Brush, CEO for Symphony. “Residents can be easily intimidated and scared, and the quality of life severely changed, if they are subjected to staff that are not passionate and dedicated to the position.”

Negotiations failed to produce a mutually agreeable outcome based on this one remaining item, reported Symphony.

The company said if there was termination without cause, it had offered a generous severance package of 3 months pay in the first year, and then one month for each year of service thereafter. This was offered in continuing good faith and to send the message that they care for employees even when a job doesn’t work out.

Meanwhile, AUPE is filing for an emergency hearing with the Alberta Labour Relations Board. The union is alleging bad faith due to the employer forcing bargaining to an impasse over such a basic right.

“We are being forced onto the picket line to secure rights that are standard in every collective agreement in Canada. Overnight, seniors and their families will have to rely on strangers to provide them with care. It is madness,” Smith said.

He added that it’s a fundamental principle that in unionized workplaces, employees accused of wrong-doing get the labour equivalent of their day in court.

“In all my life I never imagined we would be fighting to defend that right in the 21st century,” he added

“Just cause” provisions in collective agreements give employees the right to grieve discipline, up to and including termination, and see the discipline reversed or substituted with a lesser penalty if an arbitrator deems the employee innocent or otherwise finds fault in the employer’s reasons for the discipline.

The strike/lockout was initially scheduled to begin on Friday afternoon, but was postponed when the union and employer agreed to return to negotiations.