AUPE members at Revera Aspen Ridge show how solidarity works
Don’t get mad, get organized.
You’ve heard people say that, especially when bad stuff happens at work. It’s great in theory, but how do you put it into practice when you’re already short staffed, burned out and dealing with every-day problems at work?
AUPE members at Revera Aspen Ridge in Red Deer found a way. They got organized, they planned effective actions and they implemented them perfectly.
Already overworked and exhausted from more than two years of working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in their seniors’ facility, members were stunned when instructions came down from Revera head office: Cut workers’ hours and cut jobs.
“These members have worked unbelievably hard for the last two-and-a-half years to keep the residents safe, often at the expense of their own health,”
“When they heard that Revera had sent instructions to all its facilities across Canada to cut hours of care, it was a slap in the face. Cutting hours would not only mean that many workers would get a cut in pay, it would also mean that some would lose their jobs altogether,” she adds.
“These cuts also mean a drop in the quality of care for residents – and if there’s one thing that gets health-care workers mad it’s cutting care. They love these residents like they’re family members,”
“Adding to their frustration was the fact that talks over a new collective agreement had been dragging on for three years, thanks to the employer stalling. It was just too much to bear without pushing back.”
Cherie Lamb, chapter vice-chair and steward at Aspen Ridge (Local 047 Chapter 041), says members moved quickly once they heard the news about hours being cut.
The chapter has a good fan-out list, which is an essential tool for spreading the word quickly. This allowed members to have one-on-one conversations with colleagues about the impact of Revera’s decision.
It was important to have members talking to each other because those conversations carry more weight than getting an email from union headquarters.
“You know, you can relate it to their lives … they can understand it a little better,” says Lamb.
Members were able to explain to each other the impact of the cut in hours, for example, that falling below 0.4 full-time equivalent (FTE) would mean the loss of workplace benefits.
Talking one-on-one made it easier to get the point across so colleagues understood the severity of what their employer was doing.
A chapter meeting was held within days and was well attended. In fact, there weren’t enough chairs! Direct action plans were drawn up and put in to action immediately.
The first action was a sticker campaign, which began the Saturday after Revera’s announcement. The members chose to wear bright, neon stickers on their uniforms at work. These stickers deliberately had no words, no message from the union about the cuts.
Having everyone wear similar T-shirts was ruled out because many of the members wear uniforms to work. Stickers, meanwhile, could be applied to any clothing.
“We didn't find anything in our collective agreement that said that we couldn't wear something on our uniform, so we were kind of in safe territory,” says Lamb. “We needed to have something that had caused a little conversation, but not something where they felt their job was at risk.”
The sticker campaign ran for four weeks, with a different colour being worn each week. The intention was for the stickers to prompt conversations with other workers and with residents.
“The weekend was a really good time to bring out the stickers because there was no management there. So, there was a lot of opportunity to talk to the residents or let the residents ask questions,” Lamb says.
“And there were definitely a lot of questions. We even had residents asking for stickers on a regular basis.”
A visiting director from another Revera facility saw the stickers and asked what they were about. That was a short conversation, says Lamb.
Planning also started for an information picket and rally at Aspen Ridge. Building on the work of the one-on-one conversations and the sticker campaign, the rally was a success, drawing a crowd of about 100, including about 20 residents and representatives of the facility’s residents’ council.
That’s impressive for a workplace that has about 90 AUPE members.
“We were thrilled. … We were a little shocked on the numbers that came out,” says Lamb.
The rally resulted in a lot of coverage about Revera’s cuts in local media, some of which quoted the chair of the residents’ council speaking in support of the workers.
Photos from the rally have since been posted on the bulletin board in the staff room at Aspen Ridge to provide a visual reminder of members’ success in pushing back against the cuts.
Meanwhile, work continues on next steps. Members at Aspen Ridge are looking to spread to the word to other Revera sites, particularly ones that are trying to negotiate a new collective agreement.
AUPE VP Gostola says: “We weren’t able to stop Revera pushing through its cuts to hours and jobs, but these members did accomplish something important. The employer now knows it is dealing with an engaged and organized workforce, one that is united and strong.
“Employers often look for any sign of weakness among the workforce, any lack of unity. When members push back, it makes it harder for employers to force through more cuts to staffing and quality of care.”