Red Cross home care providers across Ontario began a series of rotating strikes Monday, demanding the provincial government compensate them for travel costs associated with the job.
The 3,000 workers are members of the Service Employees International Union. Cathy Carroll, secretary-treasurer for SEIU Local 1, said they came up with a system of one-day strikes to get the attention of the McGuinty government without harming their clients.
Home care workers provide a variety of services, from bathing, grooming, making meals and light housework to helping with medications and moving patients. They assist seniors, people with disabilities, people recovering from surgery and special needs children in their own homes.
Currently they are paid for the time they spend in clients’ homes, but not the time spent travelling between clients.
“When they step outside the door, their pay stops until they get to the next person,” Carroll said. “It’s part of their job to travel to their clients and they should be paid for it. Nobody else who has to travel as part of their job doesn’t get paid to travel. Even a guy who delivers pizzas gets paid to travel.” Benefits are also based on hours of work, so the more time they spend travelling, the more they miss out on qualifying for benefits.
There are 144 Red Cross caregivers in Waterloo Region, serving approximately 1,000 clients.
Dianne Moyer, caregiver for the Red Cross, said her travel time averages around two hours and 15 minutes a day working in the city of Guelph. The current pay system hits caregivers in rural areas even harder, because they have to travel farther between clients.
Moyer has worked for the Red Cross for nine years. It’s something of a family tradition; her grandmother also worked for the Red Cross, teaching war brides homemaking skills after the Second World War.
Moyer said the home care workers insisted that the strike action not harm their patients.
“We’re not doing the job to get rich; it’s something we believe in, so we weren’t going to put people at risk,” she said. “We were hoping to avoid this happening and it’s unfortunate that it’s gotten to this point.
Many of the clients have a backup plan already in place, in case of snow days, and they’ll be able to manage for one day. Home care workers will continue to assist their high needs clients, the ones who receive service seven days a week.
“There’s been no question at all that those are the people we still intend to service,” Moyer said. “There’s no way we’re going to jeopardize any of the clients’ health or conditions.”
Moyer said they’ve been inundated with calls from anxious clients, wondering if they’re going to strike, but the caregivers won’t know their region is striking until the night before.
“We just keep reassuring them that it’s only for one day, if it ever gets to our area.”
Red Cross workers voted 88 per cent in favour of a strike last summer. After months of negotiations, talks broke down last Sunday night.
Home care givers are not deemed essential workers, so they are legally allowed to strike.