Alberta union files labour practice complaint against home care company

A union representing health-care workers has filed an unfair labour practices complaint against a private health care support company.

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees says health workers not guaranteed hours back after pandemic

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees has filed an unfair labour practice complaint against CBI Health, alleging the private home care company is violating a temporary labour order during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

A union representing health-care workers has filed an unfair labour practice complaint against a private home care company.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) alleges the company is violating a government order designed to protect workers who can only work at one site during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A spokesperson for the company, CBI Home Health, said Monday the organization is complying with the law.

Many people who work as health-care aides, housekeepers, nurses, or in food services have multiple jobs at more than one long-term care centre or home care service to earn a living wage.

Public and private care homes across the province hire a substantial proportion of their workforce as part-time or as casual employees. 

"It's not good for staff, it's not good for the clients they're looking after, and in general, it's not good for Albertans," Susan Slade, AUPE vice president, said on Monday.

In the written complaint, filed last Thursday and released on Monday, the union said five Edmonton health-care aides who work for multiple companies, including CBI Home Health, opted to work exclusively for one of their other employers during the public health emergency. The union said CBI is refusing to guarantee their old jobs and hours when the pandemic is over.

One-site rule upended network of part-time workers

Last month, Alberta's chief medical officer of health ordered staff and contractors must work at only one long-term care or continuing care facility to prevent workers from inadvertently spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. At last count, 95 per cent of workers were working at a single site.

Labour Minister Jason Copping signed a ministerial order last month to protect workers during the shuffle. When employees choose one site, their other employers are supposed to put them on a leave of absence, maintain any pension and benefits and allow the employee to return to work when the provincial government ends the public health emergency.

The order also tells employers to give part-time and casual workers first dibs on increased hours and overtime. Unions can take any unresolved disputes to the Labour Relations Board.

Susan Slade is a vice president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. (Supplied by AUPE)

AUPE has done just that, alleging CBI Health Group refused to grant five workers unpaid leaves of absence with a guarantee they could return to their previous jobs for their usual hours after the pandemic.

"This flagrant violation of [the ministerial order] has caused these vital and already stressed health-care workers an enormous amount of pressure and uncertainty while they put their physical health on the line each and every day," the union complaint said.

When public health restrictions lift, the workers could be left job hunting to earn the equivalent of full-time pay again, Slade said.

"A lot of times, why people are having to work two or three jobs in the private long-term care is because they don't make enough to make ends meet," she said.

Health-care aide wages at CBI start at $16.20 an hour and rise to a maximum of $18.19, according to the union.

Alberta Health Services pays a top-earning aide $24.95 an hour. Millrise Place in Calgary pays a top aide salary of $22.85 per hour.

CBI Health supports and is complying with the labour minister's order, spokesperson Tara Bednarz said in a Monday email.

Employees who have opted to work at other sites during the pandemic have been granted leaves of absence with their support, she said.

"When the order is lifted, any employees who wish to work with us again will be welcomed back at the same status as when they left," she said. "We can not guarantee they will receive the same schedule, as our home care client base and client volume changes on a regular basis and may have changed during their leave, but their employment status will not be changed."

Adrienne South, press secretary for the labour minister, said Monday any employers that don't follow the order will be held accountable. She said the minister can't comment further while the matter is before the labour board.

The union says the labour relations board will hear the case on Thursday.


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