The combined bargaining committee for both Holy Cross and Vila Marie held five days of meetings with the employer on June 11, 12, 15, 16, and 17.

Your committee is disappointed to report that in its approach to bargaining Covenant is increasingly demonstrating an abrupt departure from its past values-based commitment to quality care. As a result, AUPE will be applying for mediation to assist in reaching a fair agreement, and will be reviewing our full range of legal options.

AUPE has had a long history of bargaining with Covenant, a not-for-profit employer that the union has generally found to uphold a high standard of care for residents. However, the pattern emerging during bargaining for these two sites has contrasted starkly with that past experience. Increasingly, bargaining with Covenant has come to resemble the union’s more challenging experiences with for-profit seniors care providers, in contrast to the more values-based approach usually demonstrated by providers such as Covenant in the not-for-profit, voluntary sector.

Staff at Villa Marie and Holy Cross approached AUPE for assistance in unionizing in late 2014 and early 2015. Since becoming certified as the bargaining agent for these two sites, AUPE has had difficulty in even getting Covenant to the table in a reasonable and timely fashion. In January 2015, AUPE was forced to file the first of two complaints against Covenant with the Alberta Labour Relations Board due to their refusal to respond to our notice to commence bargaining.

Bargaining finally started in April of this year, with the parties meeting 11 days. While some progress has been made on the language of your collective agreement, Covenant refuses to amend its monetary position of zero per-cent wage increases in each of three years.

Wages at these sites are already approximately 25 per-cent below industry standards for seniors care in Red Deer and Calgary. Reportedly, staff are refusing shifts in favour of work at private seniors care providers which provide compensation more in line with industry standards. Such significant variations in compensation jeopardize the quality of care for residents when poor employee retention prevents caregivers from developing relationships with the seniors that they care for and staff shortages lead to potentially dangerous increased workloads.

Early in bargaining, we requested that Covenant provide documents showing what funding they receive from Alberta Health Services for direct care for these new sites. The information we received indicates that AHS funds Covenant at $28.44/hour for HCAs and $37.33/hour for LPNs. Both of these rates are similar to what is received by other nursing home operators whose employee compensation is more in line with industry standards.

In light of the funding rate that Covenant receives, your committee asked the employer for a revised monetary offer by June 17. Covenant has refused to provide a revised monetary offer, a position that unnecessarily jeopardizes the quality of care for its residents.

In addition, we have concerns about Covenant’s response to issues of resident and staff safety. The union has received numerous reports of physical abuse of staff by residents who may not be appropriately placed in supportive living. Currently AUPE is working with our OH&S specialist to address these serious concerns, including reviewing the training required in advance of receiving residents who may pose a risk to staff.

As a result of these outstanding concerns, the union has decided to break off negotiation and file for government assisted mediation. Your committee will attempt to reach a fair agreement through mediation in August and September and will hold member information meetings at the sites in mid-August (exact times and locations to be announced)

If a reasonable agreement that protects the quality of care at these sites cannot be reached by mid-September, the union will again go back to members for direction on next steps, including the consideration of strike action.

Your committee understands that our members are dedicated to providing an excellent quality of care to all Covenant residents. We are dedicated to reaching a fair agreement that will address the impacts on quality care when big gaps in compensation and working conditions damage employee retention and open a revolving door of lower-wage workers.

We are committed to keeping you informed throughout the bargaining process. Please do not hesitate to contact your committee members with any question, comments or concerns you may have.

Your bargaining committee is:

Holy Cross (Calgary)
Delia Datuin
Angelo Tan
Izzy Keenas

Villa Marie (Red Deer)
Tina Larsen
Joanne May

Kevin Davediuk, AUPE Negotiator