On Thursday, Sept. 29, Points West Living staff, along with Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), representatives hosted a rally after the Government of Alberta announced it would be stepping in for negotiations.
The Disputes Inquiry Board (DIB) will act as a neutral third party, and is appointed by the government to help aid in the negotiation process. The board also puts a legal ban on all strikes and lockouts, and employees are required to continue working throughout the negotiations.
The request for the board was made by Points West Living on Sept. 19, in an effort to avoid a staffing disruption at the Cold Lake Points West Living facility.
“We support and respect the right of staff to express their view points. We welcome the decision of the Minister of Labour to appoint the Disputes Inquiry Board and are grateful for the opportunity to return to negotiations with AUPE. We are optimistic an agreement can be reached,” said CEO of Points West Living Doug Mills.
Points West Living is based out of Ontario, and offers services to seniors in the form of a live-in facility. On Monday, Sept. 26, the company scheduled a lockout of its Cold Lake employees for Thursday afternoon. It was cancelled after the announcement of the Dispute Inquiry Board on Wednesday night.
Instead, employees hosted a rally, in an effort to share their issues and concerns about the company and negotiation process.
“We thought this was going to be the start of the lockout… but yesterday the Minister of Labour issued a Disputes Inquiry Board, which puts lockouts and strikes on hold for a period of time to help get a mediator to try and resolve the issues,” said AUPE President Guy Smith.
The mediator has a period of 30 days to help the two parties come to an agreement, at which point the employers and workers will vote on the mediated recommendation. After a recommendation is made, there is still the potential for a strike or lockout, should both parties fail to come to an agreement.
Smith said the union wasn't pleased with the government's decision to intervene in the negotiation process.
“We are very disappointed… the employer made it clear that they had a contingency plan in place and that is why they were locking us out. Why the government felt it had to get involved and interfere in this process of labour relations is quite concerning,” he said.
AUPE representatives and employees of Point West Living went ahead with the rally on Thursday afternoon in order to maintain the “solidarity” amongst the workers.
Smith said he is hoping that the community sees the support the workers are receiving from AUPE and their families.
“We need to show our members who have been in tough negotiations for such a long time that they have a lot of support… There's a huge body of support,” added vice-president of AUPE Mike Dempsey.
Friends of Medicare have also shown their support for the workers, and attended the rally on Thursday.
Sandra Azocar, executive director for Friends of Medicare, told the crowd of employees and supporters, “this is just the beginning of the fight we have to take,” and that the association is here to support them throughout the process.
Smith said, “It's a very challenging job that they have, and they do it because they care about their clients, and their residents. They need to be treated with respect by their employer and that's not happening.”
Currently, employees of Points West Living are in a dispute regarding their employment contract with Points West, which they have described as having unfair wages that are often below the recommended and funded wages put in place by the government, explained Dempsey.
“Once you've committed to this kind of job, it's very important you have the working conditions to make it a long term career. Otherwise it can be very transient. One thing the residents need in a facility like this is that consistency of care,” said Smith.
Dempsey added, “The quality of life will be much better if they get a good collective agreement… At the end of the day, we have to have a better deal for our folks.”
Dempsey has been helping workers in terms of negotiating with the company, which has been ongoing for over a year.
It was during a mediation process in September when Points West Living “walked out,” explained Dempsey.
“They said, ‘we are not interested in bargaining anymore, this is the end.”
Smith claims the company is taking advantage of Alberta taxpayer's dollars.
“(Points West Living) take Alberta taxpayer dollars that are meant for worker's wages, and instead of paying those workers properly, they use part of that money of Alberta taxpayers to make profits… I think Alberta taxpayers should be very concerned about that.”