Union calls on B.C. government to stop layoffs at care homes

The Hospital Employees' Union said about 150 staff were told they would lose their jobs at the Lakeshore and Madison care centres, which have both publicly funded and private beds and house nearly 200 seniors in total.

Hospital Employees' Union said about 150 staff were told they would lose jobs at Coquitlam care centres

Care workers, family members and supporters rallied against the layoffs in Coquitlam on Sunday. (Hospital Employees' Union/Facebook)

A union held a rally on Sunday to call on British Columbia's health minister and the Fraser Health Authority to stop staff layoffs at two long-term care homes in Coquitlam.

The Hospital Employees' Union said about 150 staff were told they would lose their jobs at the Lakeshore and Madison care centres, which have both publicly funded and private beds and house nearly 200 seniors in total.

The union said the owner is switching contractors, resulting in the layoffs of care aides, licensed practical nurses, activity workers, housekeepers and food service workers.

But owner the Care Group said the contractor has decided to retire from her business, and her employees at the two centres were given layoff notices as a result.

'Committed to continuity in care'

The Care Group said it's in the process of a selecting a new contractor, and existing staff have been encouraged to apply for jobs with the new company.

It expects most of the employees will accept employment with the new contractor and therefore the suggestion that 150 employees will lose their jobs is misleading, it said.

"We are committed to continuity in care, and expect to achieve it through this transition," said Gavin McIntosh, the company's director of administration and development.

McIntosh said changes in contractors do occur in the industry and the health authority itself changed contractors within its hospitals on several occasions. In those situations, the new contractor hired most of the staff who were previously in place, he said.

'Union-busting at the most basic level'

The Hospital Employees' Union also alleges that in early May, more 100 staff at Madison and Lakeshore care homes voted to join the union, and three weeks later they received layoff notices.

Fifty housekeeping and dietary workers who were in the middle of an organizing drive at the facilities were also laid off, the union said.

"The reality is, workers at these two facilities exercised their right to join a union — and now they are without jobs," the union's secretary-business manager, Jennifer Whiteside, said in a statement.

"This is union-busting at the most basic level, and it's hurting vulnerable seniors who depend on their familiar care staff."

But McIntosh said layoff notices were provided to all the retiring contractor's employees at those sites — those covered by the union certifications, and those not covered.

He added that if employees hired by the new contractor wish to apply for union representation under the Labour Code, that will be their right.

Whiteside said the province has a recruitment and retention problem in seniors' care due to rampant contracting out and contract flipping. These practices destabilize care, keep wages low and create precarious work, she said.

"Retaining an experienced, well-trained workforce is critical to resident health and safety," she said.

"We are asking the minister of health and the Fraser Health Authority, who fund contracts with these facilities, to ensure staff retain their employment without loss of compensation, hours of work or their union."

The ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Fraser Health said in a statement that the contractor gave notice in May that she was retiring and closing her companies later this year.

"We are committed to ensuring seniors receive the best care possible and we value the work of all health-care employees in caring for seniors in our communities," it said.

"This is an unfortunate situation and we are taking it seriously. We are continuing our discussions with the contracted provider and we are trying to come to a solution."

Read more from CBC British Columbia