In early September, private, out-of-province care operator Optima Living issued 53 layoff notices to LPNs, healthcare aides (HCAs) and cooks who staff their Century Park supportive living home in Vegreville, contracting-out the work to a privately-held, B.C. business called Pro Vita.
Why? Optima Living said it best themselves in their layoff letters to workers: so they could give a “greater return to our shareholders."
Workers are upset.
Residents are at risk.
And Vegreville isn’t having it.
Here’s what you need to know about the Vegreville layoffs and why they matter to everyone who calls this province home.
1. Albertans will lose their jobs … even if that’s not what some politicians are saying.
According to the UCP there’s no reason to panic. “I understand that everyone who’s got a job there [at Century Park] now is either going to get a job with the new provider, or I think there are lots of other openings in Vegreville and area,” says the Health Minister.
That’s a useful line for a political party that supports privatized health-care and puts shareholders before citizens. But it doesn’t reflect the truth:
* Laid off Century Park staff would have to apply for a chance at their old jobs, but for lower pay and not under the working conditions they deserve.
* Pro Vita has a cap on how many workers they’re hiring, and they’re likely to pay 8 to 10 dollars/hr less than what staff currently earn. What’s more? Private contractors are notorious for cutting corners – seeking out the most vulnerable workers and taking full advantage of unstable part-time and casual positions over full-time ones.
Does that sound like a viable job offer for the people who work day and night to care for seniors?
2. This year, the government introduced a tax cut for corporations like Optima Living, so they could create more jobs in small towns … so much for that plan!
Remember when the UCP passed the so-called Job Creation Tax Act? Staff at Century Park and AUPE members across the province are tired of hearing all political parties say they care about Albertans, only to short-change them or stand back and tell us we’re just panicking when their plans don’t pan out. Private, for-profit businesses don't look for new ways to create jobs - they look for new ways to save a buck and turn a profit.
3. People’s health and well-being are at stake.
Century Park is a tight-knit community, just like Vegreville. And like so many continuing care homes, the staff there are the faces residents see daily; they’re their second-family, and Optima Living is threatening to tear that apart.
Having a private contractor swoop in to fill the void left by laid off staff will likely only create an unstable work environment that’s susceptible to high staff turnover and burnout, leaving residents vulnerable to unstable and unhealthy living conditions. Is this the kind of health-care we want our provincial leaders to promote?
4. Small-town Alberta has been sold out to private companies too long.
Century Park used to be publicly owned. It was built in part by the Vegreville community. Since 2008 it’s been passed through the hands of three private operators who have been profiting off Vegreville’s workers and seniors. Sadly, this is not uncommon in small-town Alberta.
Each private operator has been just as disconnected to the community as the next because private companies operate from behind closed doors. They’re not part of the communities they profit from, and they certainly don’t know what residents’ needs and individual stories are. So why are they increasingly put in charge of looking after our neighbours, friends and family across the province?
AUPE members and the public want to know, so we're putting the question to our political leaders.