Edmonton·Exclusive

AUPE alleges Alberta government violating single-site worker rules at Michener Centre

In a labour complaint, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees alleges the provincial government is violating the terms of its own single-site worker order at the Michener Centre in Red Deer by depriving dozens of workers of wages during the pandemic.

Staff not receiving extra hours to make up for other lost income, union labour complaint claims

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees has filed a labour complaint against the Alberta government. (Juris Graney/CBC)

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees has filed a labour complaint against the Alberta government, alleging the province is violating the terms of its own single-site worker order at the Michener Centre by depriving dozens of workers of wages during the pandemic.

In an Aug. 24 complaint to the Alberta Labour Relations Board, the union alleges about 40 employees who chose to work exclusively at the centre following a COVID-19 government directive have not received extra hours to make up for the loss of income from their other employers.

The Michener Centre, in Red Deer, is a provincially run facility for adults with developmental disabilities.

"We have had several members come forward and basically say they can't make their car payments, they are not making their rent, they are not getting enough hours," AUPE vice-president Bonnie Gostola said in an interview Wednesday.

She said while the labour complaint mentions 40 affected employees, about 50 workers have raised the issue with the union.

"This wasn't their sole source of income," Gostola said. "When they decided, 'Hey, I'm going to dedicate my time to Michener and make them my one site,' there was an expectation that they would be compensated according to the [provincial] order."

In April, Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, ordered staff and contractors to work at only one long-term care or continuing care facility to prevent workers from spreading the coronavirus.

That same month, Labour Minister Jason Copping signed a ministerial order meant 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 once the provincial government's public health emergency is lifted.

Under the ministerial order, employers are also supposed to give workers priority access to extra hours if their hours are reduced by being restricted to one site.

"All reasonable efforts will be made to keep staff members whole and avoid any financial loss due to the requirement to work at only one health care facility," Copping's order states.

Workers out 'thousands' in lost income: complaint

In its complaint, the AUPE alleges that the government's refusal to make up for the workers' lost wages has caused the employees "an enormous amount of pressure and uncertainty while they put their physical health on the line each and every day.

"This flagrant violation has also caused to the affected employees thousands of dollars in lost income that they are entitled to claim as damages," the complaint states.

AUPE vice-president Bonnie Gostola said by not making up for workers' lost income, the government is effectively penalizing workers who chose the Michener Centre as their sole employer during the pandemic. (AUPE/Twitter)

The union filed an initial labour relations board complaint on June 19 and filed the amended complaint last week after two unsuccessful discussions with the government.

Gostola said the government has made it clear that, "'We don't care if you're a dedicated employee; we're not going to give you the hours that you need to survive. We are actually going to punish you for dedicating your time to the Michener Centre as your one site of employment during this pandemic.'"

She said even though many staff were "strong-armed" into choosing the Michener Centre as their one employer during the pandemic, workers have since reported that the centre is giving hours to new casual and temporary employees rather than the workers who forfeited their other sources of income.

In its complaint, AUPE says it wants the labour relations board to order the government to immediately schedule the employees in ways that make up for their lost hours moving forward, and give them back pay retroactive to April 7.

None of the allegations in AUPE's complaint has been proven and the government has not yet filed a response.

The union also filed a policy grievance with the government on Aug. 26 that seeks many of the same remedies.

The grievance says, however, that if the government does not increase the employees' hours and give them back pay, it should let the workers "continue or return to work at their concurrent places of employment while retaining their regular shifts" at the Michener Centre.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for Community and Social Services said the Michener Centre must adhere to the single-site worker rule but the ministry will not comment on AUPE's complaint while it is before the labour relations board.

About the Author

Jennie Russell

Investigative reporter

Jennie Russell is a reporter with CBC Investigates, the award-winning investigative unit of CBC Edmonton. Jennie specializes in accountability journalism and her work has been widely credited with forcing transparency and democratic change in Alberta. Contact Jennie at jennie.russell@cbc.ca and follow her on Twitter @jennierussell_.

With files from Janet French

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