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Ford's LTC emergency measures: fixing the bosses mess

Peter Votsch Vice President – TNG Unit CUPE Local 7797

April 8, 2020

The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care (MoHLTC) has issued 14 day ‘emergency orders’ to employers in Long Term Care Homes in reaction to the rapid spread of Covid-19 in a number of those homes throughout the province. There will be an option to renew those orders in the subsequent 14 days, after which the Tories will have to pass legislation (in a parliament where they hold a majority). LTC workers work in municipal homes (often represented by CUPE), but also in private homes, which, if they are organized, are represented by a number of different unions.

These measures will supersede negotiated Collective Agreements in a number of areas: management will be able to re-deploy workers without conditions; they will be able to change workers’ shifts arbitrarily; they will be able to cancel leaves already approved; they will be able to do bargaining unit (BU) work.

The re-deployment can be done without respect to bumping and layoff provisions (read seniority). Grievances will be suspended during the order. It gets worse – employers will have the right to use medical staff contractors. Part-time staff will be hired, and given online training. Finally, volunteers can be brought in to do BU work.

It is to be expected that the level of care will get worse, despite the efforts of workers. It was indeed a major cause of the outbreak in certain homes in the first place: two seniors to a room, understaffing leading to a rationing of care per resident, and frequent violent incidents directed towards staff or fellow residents, that have ended too often in tragic and untimely deaths. Now add Covid.

As a reward for deplorable conditions that have long existed, and have been condoned by both Ford’s Tories and the Wynne Liberals before them, reporting requirements have been loosened during the emergency. LTC Home bosses will no longer have to make reports on staffing, care standards and requirements, and will not have to document changes in care plans in place for residents. The rationale for this: only Covid related issues are to be reported.

CUPE has long maintained a “Time to Care” campaign around staffing in the homes – calling for staffing levels that would allow for a minimum of 4 hours care per resident each day. This would alleviate almost continual reports of bed-ridden seniors acquiring terrible bed sores for lack of exercise, or lying in excrement as staff members cannot get to them in time. This campaign has now been suspended due to the Covid crisis.

In CUPE organized facilities, 95% of workers reported that they had received no training to deal with patients suffering from Covid-19. 85% were not informed of these ‘emergency orders’, and worse, 85% of workers reported that they did not feel they had adequate protective equipment to deal with the pandemic.

There are however small openings for resistance. The right to refuse (unsafe work) is limited in the healthcare field, however the employer cannot avoid their customary duty to provide functional safety equipment: N-95 masks where required, that fit, proper gowns and sanitary storage. Failing that, the worker has a right to refuse hazardous work under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (not walk off the job, as Ford suggested for construction workers, and get fired). Seems Mr. Ford is not well acquainted with working for a living.

Our newly celebrated healthcare workers (‘zeros to heros’) have long borne the brunt of healthcare cuts, and management ‘flexibility’. The increasing use of private care agencies, and part-time labour forces that work in numerous healthcare settings have been found to have greatly contributed to the spread of Covid-19. In the City of Toronto, part-time workers in the LTC homes, who string together more than one job to make a living, have been told by the employer to choose one job over another. Yet they have taken extra work precisely because they do not get enough hours and/or pay, and cannot access full-time positions. The chickens have come home to roost.

This is the bosses’ mess, and our loved ones in LTC homes are paying for it with their lives. Their ‘efficiencies’ have been laid bare. Time for our own plan: pay us fairly, give us stability at work, and the protection we need – the good start that we must demand.


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