Hospital transfer workers are seen outside the Lynn Valley Centre care home in North Vancouver, B.C. on April 8, 2020. Seniors who complained of fatigue, confusion or just didn’t seem like themselves were tested for COVID-19, allowing the Vancouver Coastal Health authority to get in front of the virus, a health official says. Medical health officer Dr. Michael Schwandt said they began testing broadly and often, and not just those who had classic symptoms of the virus. It was a decision Schwandt said helped pinpoint developing cases before they could spread in care homes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Unionization at deadly care home signals change, says expert

Care aides at the Lynn Valley Care Centre are looking to unionize in the wake of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak

  • Jun. 6, 2020 10:00 a.m.

By Moira Wyton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Tyee

Care aides at the Lynn Valley Care Centre are looking to unionize in the wake of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the North Vancouver facility, signalling workers’ appetites for better working conditions and compensation in the beleaguered sector.

The home suffered Canada’s first COVID-related fatality in March, with 20 residents eventually dying of the disease and more than 50 residents and two dozen staff infected before the outbreak was declared over in May.

The Hospital Employees’ Union, which represents more than 15,000 care aides, submitted an application to represent workers at the facility to the Labour Relations Board early this week.

A majority of staff had signed union cards, the HEU said in a news release, and a mail-in vote among 120 staff members will be administered by the board this week.

“In the face of this unfolding tragedy, and despite the risks they faced, these workers showed courage, and a deep commitment to the care of their elderly residents at Lynn Valley,” HEU secretary-business manager Jennifer Whiteside said in the release.

“Now they are uniting together with HEU to advocate for safer working and caring conditions, and fair treatment from their employer.”

The HEU represents staff at nine other facilities in B.C. operated by Pro Vita, the contractor that provides staff to privately-owned Lynn Valley. It represented workers at Lynn Valley until 2007.

BC Liberal government changes in 2003 ending protection for employees when care home owners changed contractors led to contract-flipping and decreased unionization in the sector.

In 2001, the BC Liberal government introduced legislation allowing a number of long-term care operators to opt out of the existing master collective agreement.

The result today is contract “fragmentation,” said Whiteside, and disparate provisions across more than 80 separate agreements negotiated by HEU since 2001.

The move towards unionization comes on the heels of a pandemic that has revealed serious problems in the province’s long-term care system and left staff and residents vulnerable to the virus.

Bethany Hastie, a labour expert and assistant professor at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia, said the pandemic could bring a new wave of union organizing.

“It’s really shone a light on the kinds of essential work that we maybe didn’t think of as essential,” Hastie said.

“In that particular industry, that privatization seemed to be followed by a depression in wages and in benefits… and these people are taking care of the most vulnerable people in our society.”

The vast majority of B.C.’s 164 virus-related deaths have been residents of long-term care, as have around 80 per cent of deaths across Canada.

These deaths include one care aide in his 40s, who worked in two facilities to support his family and died after contracting the virus at work.

Early in the pandemic, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry took over staffing at long-term care facilities across the province, offering some workers wage boosts and ensuring that each staff member only worked at one facility to limit potential transmission.

Many care aides had worked across facilities to get enough hours to make ends meet, and about two-thirds of aides in private facilities don’t make as much as those covered by the Provincial Master Agreement.

Changes to the provincial labour code in 2019 now prohibit contract-flipping and the province has promised a comprehensive review and reform of the sector after the pandemic subsides.

Hastie says these changes mean Lynn Valley could be the beginning of a wave of unionization among B.C. care workers.

The memory of the benefits of unionization is strong among staff, Hastie said, as is knowledge of how to organize.

“This is perhaps an important moment for workers to seek to make gains to allow them to have decent working conditions and wages because of unionization,” she said. “We’re seeing a revitalization in labour organizing.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

QUIZ: Are you ready for a summer road trip?

How much do you really know about roads, motor vehicles and car culture? Take this quiz to find out.

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

Summer arrives at Big White Ski Resort

Hiking, bike trails, restaurants and more are open as of July 10

COVID-19 cases identified in Kelowna, after public gatherings

Those who were downtown or at the waterfront from June 25 to July 6 maybe have been exposed to COVID-19.

Pianos return to Kelowna parks

The Pianos in Parks program was postponed amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Genetic detectives begin work to trace spread of COVID-19 in Canada

The kinds of genetic technology being used for this project did not exist when SARS hit Canada in 2003

COVID-19: Homeless to be relocated from temporary Okanagan shelter

Homeless shelters in Vernon have been combined into one site at the curling rink since April

Dozens of fish die at popular lake near Chase

A few natural phenomena are possible causes for their deaths.

Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Grocers appear before MPs to explain decision to cut pandemic pay

Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains have defended their decision to end temporary wage increases

Bringing support to Indigenous students and communities, while fulfilling a dream

Mitacs is a nonprofit organization that operates research and training programs

RCMP ‘disappointed’ by talk that race a factor in quiet Rideau Hall arrest

Corey Hurren, who is from Manitoba, is facing 22 charges

Most Read