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Points West Living requests mediation

A mediator has been called in to assist negotiations between Points West Living and its employees. The decision to seek assistance comes in the midst of contract negotiations between the employer and staff.
Staff at Points West Living in Cold Lake picketed last month; they have been struggling to get their first contract as a union signed.
Staff at Points West Living in Cold Lake picketed last month; they have been struggling to get their first contract as a union signed.

A mediator has been called in to assist negotiations between Points West Living and its employees.

The decision to seek assistance comes in the midst of contract negotiations between the employer and staff.

Back in March the staff at Points West Living signed a petition to join the Alberta Union of Provincial Employers (AUPE) and began bargaining for their first collective agreement.

Points West Living operates nine facilities throughout the province, including a facility directly beside the Cold Lake hospital.

Back in October Cold Lake staff took to the streets with signs and flags and picketed in front of the local facility in an attempt to raise public awareness about their dispute.

After eight months of off-and-on talks, negotiations have hit a standstill with either side unwilling to budge.

In order to move the process along and establish their first contract, the staff, represented by AUPE, requested mediation. Points West Living agreed and a mediator is set to look at the issue on Jan. 21 and 22, 2016.

"I am not sure there is disagreement, just a need for bargaining to move forward," said Doug Mills, CEO of Points West Living.

"Points West Living wishes to negotiate a fair agreement for both our employees and our organization," added Mills. "To achieve that, we need to follow the collective bargaining process, which means sitting across the table from each other and working out solutions."

By bringing in a mediator the two sides have shown they are willing to sit down at the bargaining table, with assistance, and try to work out an agreement.

The mediator will talk to both sides separately, hear the major concerns, and then bring the two sides together to facilitate a discussion.

"(The mediator) will attempt to craft language that can bring the two sides together on some of the issues or all of them," said AUPE vice-president Mike Dempsey. "He listens to both sides and suggests what he feels is the best."

The mediator could have his hands full with this discussion, as the two sides have mentioned differing opinions on several key topics.

Dempsey says staff at the Points West facilities are looking to discuss salary raises, benefits and improvements to their working conditions.

"Their concerns are in large part around the caring of the people here," said Dempsey. "There are a number of health and safety issues."

Points West Living feels all of their facilities are up to excellent standards, noting that they employ an occupational, health and safety committee that meets to discuss safety issues.

"If there are concerns, we have not been asked to meet," said Mills. "We would, of course, meet to discuss and resolve any issues quickly."

The other sticking point has to do with money, as staff at the facilities feel they deserved to be paid a similar rate to other nurses in the province.

"Points West has been unwilling to negotiate a salary raise or even talk about money whatsoever," said Dempsey.

According to Mills the salary talks are due to the lack of funding information the company has received from the province.

"We all await the Alberta Government to approve the Provincial budget and Alberta Health Services to have their budget approved," said Mills. "After these approvals are in place, we hope to receive an understanding of our 2015-16 funding, which provides us with the ability to make a financial offer."

The lack of funding details are holding up several bargaining agreements, as AHS officials are also in the midst of discussing a collective agreement with AUPE.

Mills noted that staff at the Cold Lake facility received a three per cent wage increase in February 2015 and some staff are set to receive another three per cent jump this month.

While there appears to be some distance between the groups, both sides hope that the mediator is able to bring them to the table and facilitate a fair discussion.

The mediation session is scheduled for early 2016, but both sides still have the ability to get to the table and continue discussions. If no agreement is reached by Jan. 21 the sides will attend mediation.

"It is possible that neither side will budge," said Dempsey. "We will see what happens after mediation. Anything can happen including a strike."