Wage parity driver behind Points West employees’ unionization

The employees at Stettler's Points West Living voted to join the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) last week.

An industry-standard wage, benefits and an end to high turn-over rates were just some of the reasons employees at Stettler’s Points West Living voted to join the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) last week.

The vote, which took place on Wednesday, May 11, had a “strong majority,” Glen Scott, vice president of AUPE, said. He spoke on behalf of the union and its new members.

Stettler’s Points West joins fellow Points West union members from sites in Vegreville and Cold Lake. AUPE now represents about 250 Points West employees.

Members “realized that forming a union was the only way to improve their working conditions and ensure real accountability from their employer,” Scott said.

While many people hear the word “union,” they often think about money, he said. And while wage parity is a big driver behind the unionization movement at Points West, which does not offer industry standard wages and offers different wages between its sites, care for the residents is the biggest driver.

“These people work helping other people because they genuinely care for them,” he said. “They want to be sure the people they care for are getting the best care possible.”

He said that when profit margins become a consideration, corners are often cut. These corners are frequently in health and safety, and since health-care workers and providers often do a lot of lifting, health and safety is important to ensure their long-term health as well.

Now that the vote has passed to unionize, the next step is crafting and signing a contract with their employer. This is usually the most difficult contract to negotiate, Scott said.

“It’s an adjustment for a lot of employers,” he said.

Though a strike is an option if a contract can’t be hashed out, Scott said it’s the absolute last resort, and the last thing the union wants to see happen.

“These workers care about the people they help,” he said. “And it takes quite a while to recoup the financial losses after a strike.”

Since many of the groups AUPE represents do not have the right to strike, or have only recently gained the right, the union’s negotiators have lots of experience in tough contract negotiations.

“These new members will add momentum to our efforts to call on Points West Living to put people before profits,” said Scott. “We are calling on the company to negotiate fair contracts that will be a win-win for residents and the workers who care for them,” said Scott.

Points West Living is one of the fastest growing and most profitable seniors care providers in Alberta. The Ontario-based company purchased seven Alberta facilities for approximately $100 million last year and is set to open another four by 2017.

Right now, Stettler’s Points West employees are paid “well below industry-standards,” Scott said. This is not just in terms of wages, but also in terms of benefits. Furthermore, there’s no parity between Points West sites, meaning that wages are “all over the place.”

When wages are below industry standard, Scott said people don’t stay at a job long, causing a high rate of turn-over.

“This is where people come to start their careers,” he said. They get experience and then move on, leaving the seniors they care for needing to build yet another new relationship with a new employee.

“It’s very stressful for the seniors,” he said.

Other concerns Scott said the union hopes to address through a contract is occupational health and safety and staffing levels.

None of the staffers that voted for unionization would speak to the Independent, citing the precarious position that they’re in now that they’ve voted to unionize. Since there’s no contract in place, they are all walking on egg shells, Scott said.

“First contract law favours the employer,” he said.