CUPE calls for more COVID-19 protection at nursing homes

CALGARY – One fifth of the staff at McKenzie Town Care Centre have tested positive for COVID-19, a situation that has their union calling for big changes to the way the province handles staffing in the long-term care sector.

CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill wrote to Health Minister Tyler Shandro suggesting detailed measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Gill’s letter said current rules allowing workers to move from facility to facility, while still leaving most seniors’ facilities dangerously short staffed, were not sufficient.

“The absence of a fifth of the employees is life-threatening for residents,” wrote Gill.  “Normal guidelines concerning nutrition, hygiene, and recreation cannot be implemented if there is no staff to do it, let alone COVID-specific protocols for isolation and deep-cleaning.”

Gill called on the Kenney government to implement a province wide staffing strategy for nursing facilities. Among the most needed reforms is an end to the practice of staff working at more than one facility at a time.

“According to preliminary survey data, 37% of long-term care workers work in more than one site,” said Gill. “This mobility is creating a very dangerous situation.”

“Your government should create the conditions for a quick and coordinated response that ensures that workers are not penalized,” wrote Gill.

Gill said some individual facilities are preventing staff from working elsewhere, but that without provincial co-ordination, the efforts will likely fall short or fail completely. And unless wages are increased, short staffing will continue to be a problem during the crisis.

“We are in this mess because of low wages and poor working conditions,” said Gill. “A successful strategy to get out of it requires a wage subsidy to increase and level wages across the sector.”

CUPE wants changes similar to those enacted in British Columbia, requiring a re-structuration of staffing practices and a rapid reorganization of the workforce. “These goals need to be accomplished without punishing health-care workers in the front-lines.”

Health care centers need single employer rules

In the wake of the COVID 19 crisis, a union representing auxiliary nursing and support staff is calling for staffing changes.

CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill says Alberta should impose ‘single site staffing’, to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

CUPE represents 150 employees at Mackenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre in Calgary. There have been 36 cases of COVID-19 among residents, and another 6 cases among staff. Two of those cases have led to death.

Gill says that up to 40% of the CUPE members in long term care work in multiple health care facilities and risk passing COVID-19 around. Yesterday, the chief Medical Officer has issued an order preventing Mackenzie employees from working elsewhere, but Gill says that order is too limited and comes too late in the process.

“Long term care is a wage ghetto with low pay and limited access to full time hours. Workers take second and third jobs to make ends meet,” said Gill. “Employees go from one facility to another, and the virus spreads. In short, poor working conditions are accelerating a health crisis.”

The Kenney government decided yesterday against enforcement of single site staffing rules. Gill said that decision was “irresponsible and unethical.”

“Alberta needs to stop the flow of workers between health care facilities. Patients and health care workers are getting sick.”

“We tell people to stay at home, but then say it’s okay for health care workers to move from center to center? There is no rational or medical reason for this.”

Gill released a letter from one manager indicating AHS direction was to ask employees to only work at one site per day. “As if going home for the night is somehow going to rid workers of a virus.”

CUPE is calling on the Alberta government to do the following:

  • Prevent the movement of workers from one health facility to another during the crisis.
  • Protect the hours and employment of workers who choose one facility over another.
  • Protect the benefits, wages and pension payments of workers.
  • Improve wages, at least temporarily, among staff to recruit enough workers to allow proper social distancing among workers and patients.

Similar measures have been enacted in British Columbia. See details here.

“Giving workers full time employment will saves lives and improve care,” said Gill. “It’s a win-win.”

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Kenney government fires school employees, CUPE warns of brain drain

EDMONTON – The union representing most K-12 educational staff in Alberta schools called the Kenney government heartless and thoughtless for laying off thousands of school workers for the last two months of the school year.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced today that the Kenney government was withdrawing funding to school districts for staffing during the last two months of the 2019-20 school year.

CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill said funding to schools’ base operational grant was being reduced by 14%.  Gill believes up to 20,000 employees could lose their employment.

“With a surprise announcement, lacking in detail, on a Saturday afternoon, the Kenney government has just fired thousands of people who look after and educate our kids,” said Gill.

The minister has just passed the buck to the federal government and told education workers, ‘good luck out there, there are programs you can access.’

Gill said CUPE will examine the various collective agreements with school districts to assess the legality of the move but warned that “treating employees so callously would harm the education system.”

“You can’t just fire thousands of Educational Assistants and expect them to all run back to the system in the fall,” said Gill. “This is a recipe for a massive brain drain.”

“Educational assistants can still help students, custodial workers can still be of use, the short-sightedness of this move is breathtaking.”

“We should be helping people keep their jobs during the crisis, not putting front line workers out on the street.”

A message from CUPE Alberta President

Dear Friends, Sisters and Brothers,

I first want to thank you all for the incredible work you are all doing on behalf of your members and the public. The COVID-19 crisis is testing us all in ways few could have imagined and CUPE members throughout Alberta have demonstrated the very best values of public service and the Labour Movement. I want to reassure you all that while we are having to work in new ways, CUPE Alberta Division is focusing all its resources on the current situation and is available and ready to support our affiliates and members. I encourage all Affiliates and members to regularly check the CUPE Alberta website for updates and how CUPE is responding to this unprecedented situation.

In keeping with the need to make sure that we do all we can to ensure the safety of members and the public, the CUPE Alberta Division Executive made the very difficult decision on March 18, 2020 to cancel all scheduled Division meetings up to July 1, 2020. While we are very aware that a democratic organization requires the full participation of its members, the very best public health advice is to limit face to face interactions as much as possible for the coming weeks and months so the Division Executive decided to follow this recommendation. We are committed to finding ways for our members to work with each other and communicate in safe and responsible ways using technology and are working hard to make these available as soon as possible.

To begin the process of finding new ways to work the Division will be hosting a video conference for CUPE Alberta Local Presidents next week. This will be an opportunity for the Division to directly update the Local Presidents on the current situation including, the discussion the Division has had with the provincial government. The video conference is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, March 25, 2020, at 6:30 pm. Full details including the Agenda and Login Information will be sent to all Locals on Monday, March 23, 2020.

These are the toughest of times but our members represent the very best in all our sectors and I know we will come through this crisis stronger than we have ever been. Keep safe, take care of each other and thank you again for all you are doing to keep Albertans safe.

Best and in Solidarity,

Rory

 

Support for workers who have to stay home due to quarantine

After a week of delay and denial, the Alberta government has finally lived up to it’s promise to provide PAID leave to those who have to isolate for 14 days.

From the government website (for full information click the link here: alberta.ca/release.)

Financial supports for Albertans

Albertans should be focused on their health and not worry about whether they can pay their bills, so the government has put a number of options in place for those struggling financially:

Emergency Isolation Support: $50 million

This will be a temporary program for working adult Albertans who must self-isolate because they meet the Government of Alberta’s published criteria for self-isolation, including persons who are the sole caregiver for a dependent who must self-isolate because they meet the public health criteria, and who will not have another source of pay or compensation while they are self-isolated.

It will be distributed in one payment installment and will bridge the gap until the federal emergency payments begin in April.
We expect the program to be accessible by a simple online application through alberta.ca next week and that funds will be deposited in the accounts of eligible recipients beginning at that time.

Message to CUPE members regarding coronavirus

To CUPE members across Alberta,

The spread of the coronavirus around the world has led to numerous workplace issues that CUPE is dealing with. Each sector and workplace has their own issues, and CUPE staff and local executives are working around the clock to address them as best we can.

National Representatives are available by email and phone to assist locals as we work through the various issues.

Please keep the following principals in mind:

• Employers have legal obligations to ensure that the workplace is safe. Employers should inform employees if there is a risk of exposure and ensure that appropriate precautionary measures are taken.

• All employees are of 90 days or longer are entitled to unpaid leave due to the illness, injury or quarantine. Many collective agreements will allow for paid leave.

• At the time of writing this, the provincial government has promised paid sick leave for all who do not have it, but they have not provided any details of how that will work.

• If you are not sick, but need to stay at home to care for a child or family member, all employees are entitled to up to five days unpaid leave per year if the leave is necessary (a) for the health of the employee, or (b) for the employee to meet his or her family responsibilities in relation to a family member. Again, individual collective agreements might provide more leave or paid leave.

Where work can be done remotely or from an employee’s home, CUPE will ask employers to do so. In particular, employees with compromised immune systems need to be accommodated.

Schools and daycares have been cancelled, which creates a serious challenge for many workers. Employers have a duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship. This means employers may need to be flexible with hours of work, change schedules and allow employees to work from home where possible.

Employers also have a duty to accommodate where employees are required to self-isolate or provide care because family members are sick.

CUPE staff and elected representatives will continue to be available to assist with all manner of workplace issues. Please reach out to your job steward or local representative if you need assistance.

CUPE Alberta Convention 2020 – Postponed

A message from CUPE Alberta Executive regarding CUPE Alberta Convention March 18-20, 2020 in Fort McMurray, AB:

After reviewing recommendations from public health and government officials, the executive of CUPE Alberta decided late Thursday evening to postpone our annual convention, scheduled to take place next week in Fort McMurray.

We’ve made this decision to slow down the rate of infection among at-risk populations. CUPE members work in schools, in long term care homes and in hospitals. These workers are most at risk, and most needed to fight a pandemic.

Out of an abundance of caution, we are postponing our convention. We will monitor the situation and will aim to reschedule our convention once the pandemic has subsided or health authorities recommend gatherings such as ours go ahead.

In Solidarity,

Rory Gill, President CUPE AB