Saskatoon group home files unfair labour practice application over workers' job action

Saskatoon’s Elmwood Residences has filed an unfair labour practice application on Monday with the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board to stop what it says is illegal strike action by its unionized workers.

75 unionized workers issued strike notice to employer Elmwood Residences last week

There are 75 SEIU members working for Elmwood Residences, most of whom are casual or part-time workers. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Saskatoon's Elmwood Residences filed an unfair labour practice application on Tuesday with the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board to stop what it says is "illegal strike action" by its unionized workers.

The company also filed an application for interim relief from the board, stating there will be irreparable harm and labour relations harm if the strike doesn't come to an end immediately.

Elmwood runs 11 group homes in Saskatoon for adults with intellectual disabilities. Many residents require 24-hour care.

Union president Barbara Cape said as of Wednesday, both parties have agreed to return to the bargaining table, despite the complaint filed with the board. 

Elmwood said its board hearing is set for Feb. 27.

Support workers at the group homes issued a strike notice earlier last week, saying they would stop driving residents to recreational programs and activities as of Friday evening.

The organization said in a press release that because the workers provide an essential service to the public, the employer and union must bargain an agreement to maintain essential services during a strike.

They say they contacted Service Employees International Union-West, which represents the workers, four times in January in order to bargain an essential services agreement, but the union refused to bargain.

"SEIU-West's refusal to enter into an essential services agreement jeopardizes the health and well-being of the residents," said Elmwood executive director Colleen Stenhouse, in an emailed statement. "Without such an agreement in place, a withdrawal of services by the Union risks the residents being forced to live without care and supervision, something they are not able to safely to do.

"We are deeply concerned about the risk this poses to the residents."

Union says both sides have agreed to return to bargaining table

Cape said the job action taken has been minimal. She said the workers' goal is to be heard by Elmwood, not to disrupt the residents. 

"We are very aware of the needs and the wants of our residents and clients in care at Elmwood group homes," she told CBC. "If anybody knows what the clients need and want it's the frontline staff who provide the support services every single day."

Cape said the workers have been compliant with the essential services legislation and the union will be arguing that.

"This is really a new area, I think, for the labour movement in Saskatchewan because lots of this essential services legislation has never been tested," Cape said. "This is going to be a test case. It will be interesting to see how it rolls out."