Extendicare contract sets new standard: union

Workers at Extendicare Michener Hill in Red Deer have accepted a contract that union leaders believe will set a new standard for private employers in their industry.

Workers at Extendicare Michener Hill in Red Deer have accepted a contract that union leaders believe will set a new standard for private employers in their industry.

The new agreement between the company and its 275 workers formally allows front-line workers to address quality of care with management, provides wages competitive with those paid to direct employees of Alberta Health Services and introduces a three per cent, matching employer RRSP contribution, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees said in a statement released after the votes were tallied.

Base wages, in some instances are 10 to 13 per cent higher than what the company had propose in its offer, AUPE negotiator Kevin Davediuk said before heading home to Edmonton.

The workers have been without a contract since last September, when Extendicare Michener Hill started taking its first clients. The facility includes 280 beds, of which 220 are for continuing care with the balance for supportive living.

Contract talks had broken down and members voted to go on strike in February, but agreed to take part in mediated talks rather than walk off the job.

When mediation failed, Alberta Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk appointed a Dispute Inquiry Board with lawyer David Phillips Jones as its sole member to intervene.

AUPE had fought its contract battle with Extendicare on issues of the quality of care workers were able to provide their clients in a climate where certified workers, including licensed practical nurses and health-care aides, were being lured to more lucrative jobs, said Davediuk.

One of the key aspects of the agreement is that front-line workers and management will form a committee to discuss and resolve quality of care issues, he said.

The benefit to residents of the 280-bed facility is that they will see more consistent care and that the people looking after them will have input in how that care is delivered, said Davediuk.

“When we are looking at these difficult to recruit classifications and professions, they’ve really got to be the market standard. I think we won that battle.”

The big question now is whether Extendicare will ratify the contract, said Davediuk.

The AUPE was to write Minister Lukaszuk today and inform him that the majority of the workers support the contract, although there are still some details that need to be improved in the future.

But union representatives have no way of knowing whether Extendicare will also accept the terms of the new contract.

If not, then the workers employed at Extendicare Michener Hill still have a mandate to go on strike, said Davediuk.

Salaries and benefits provided in the contract are retroactive to the date the Michener Hill facility opened, but that portion will be paid only to those workers who were still with the company on the day the vote was taken and will not include those who had left, said Davediuk.

In a statement released after the votes were tallied, union president Guy Smith said the round of negotiations that has now come to a close will be a model for bargaining with other private sector employers.

“Every operator gets the same base funding to pay the same wages as Alberta Health Services,” said Smith’s statement.

“If they shortchange employees, it means they’re shortchanging residents on quality of care and we’re not going to enable that.”

The AUPE will not release the number of people who voted or the margin by which they voted in favour of the contract, said Davediuk.

Rebecca Scott, communications officer with Extendicare, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday evening.