Mediator requested as contract talks stall at Villa Marie

The union negotiating a contract for health-care workers at Covenant Care’s Villa Marie recently applied for a mediator.

The union negotiating a contract for health-care workers at Covenant Care’s Villa Marie recently applied for a mediator.

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees represents about 80 employees at the seniors care facility that opened in early 2014.

Workers, mostly health-care aides and LPNs, joined the AUPE in October and contract negotiations began in April.

AUPE says wages at Covenant Care are about 25 per cent below seniors care industry standards.

“We asked them for a best offer June 17 because it was 11 days of bargaining. They basically refused to move. They offered us a three-year deal at zero-zero-zero on rates that are extremely low,” said negotiator Kevin Davediuk on Monday.

Villa Marie has 100 supportive living Level 4 care beds, or beds that are one level below long-term care, which is the highest care level for seniors.

The facility is one of two Covenant facilities touted as a new model of care where seniors can age in place without having to move as their care needs change.

In 2012, the province contributed about $30 million for construction of the facilities and non-profit Covenant Health put in $21 million.

The union says the discrepancy in wages at Villa Marie jeopardizes the quality of care for residents.

Davediuk said members have reported that the site is not always able to fully staff shifts.

AUPE applied for a mediator early last week with the hope that mediation will begin in July.

He said Covenant has confirmed funding it receives from Alberta Health Services for direct care is comparable to similar facilities that compensate staff at the industry standard.

That means this employer receives very reasonable funding, he said.

“We always had a good relationship with Covenant Health. But this new entity (Covenant Care) for some reason, which they really haven’t explained well to us, has decided to try to reset the health care aide and LPN market substantially.”

AUPE represents 1,300 Covenant Health employees at facilities across Alberta.

The union has filed a complaint with Alberta Labour Relations Board about Covenant Care, which AUPE calls a subsidiary of Covenant Health.

Meanwhile, Covenant Health says Covenant Care is not a subsidiary but rather a sister organization that is separate from Covenant Health.

Covenant Care’s website says it’s “aligned with Covenant Health, as part of the Covenant family.”

An email from Linda Chow-Turner, Covenant Care’s senior operating officer, said the non-profit has been bargaining in good faith with AUPE and is hopeful for a positive resolution.

“We value our staff and appreciate their dedication to the care of our residents,” Chow-Turner said.

“All of our funding supports quality care and the well-being of our residents. Our staffing model is designed to ensure our residents are well cared for and to ensure our site is sustainable”

The union has been negotiating contracts for both Villa Marie and Covenant Care’s Holy Cross Manor in Calgary and mediation is being sought on behalf of members at both facilities.

“There is a very good chance that if we don’t get the contract done, we’ll be looking at taking some form of job action for both sites,” Davediuk said.

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com