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PSW Strike

Gail Acton recently received the following email. Her response is also featured below:

We the People, By the People and For the People

As you are aware the 4600 Personal Support Workers (PSWs) employed by The Canadian Red Cross Society and Red Cross Care Partners have been on strike since Wednesday December 11th. This affects 150 PSWs in Sault Ste. Marie and continues to have a devastating impact on untold numbers of elderly and disabled persons throughout our community. The vast majority of Ontarians would prefer the independence to age and receive care in their home. This provides them the dignity they rightly deserve. The question before this community and indeed this Government then is what value we place on the dignity and independence of our most vulnerable.

Currently our working conditions hover at the poverty line.  The average wage of a PSW working for the Red Cross is $14.32 per hr. We receive $0.34 per/km driven.  A five year wage freeze in which inflation and rising gas prices have resulted in a 7% decrease in wages and substandard remuneration for mileage have further compounded this. The latter has resulted in many of us having to pay out of our own pocket to deliver care. For years we have done so out of care and respect for our clients and now we are simply asking the same for ourselves.

The work we do each and every day enables clients to stay in their own home, keeping them away from Nursing homes, hospital and long term care facilities. It seems this is a case of corporate greed, as the company is allotted $30 per hour for their PSW's. that means the worker receives less then 50% of that money, when we are the eyes, ears, and hands of this company. Last year RC's CEO received a 9% wage increase, which amounted to approx. $23 000. A front line worker doesn't even make that in a year.

Support is needed from friends and family of the members, as well as our community. Help us show the government and the employer that we ARE important, and we deserve respect and to be treated fairly. We as workers are not happy about this decision, however it is what needs to be done , as all other means of negotiating have been exhausted.

The support from the community has been overwhelming yet you remain silent on the issue. As voters I am sure you can understand this has been disappointing to put it charitably. The home care system needs good jobs to provide a stable workforce for our clients who depend on it and this Government should strive to ensure that funding goes to front line care rather than corporate profits and bureaucracy.

Although we understand that your reply will likely centre on not wanting to interfere in a labour dispute this empty rhetoric ignores the human element of this struggle and does little to ease the suffering those who deliver and receive care. Sadly it seems the home care system is designed to be an exercise in exploitation with the Government a willing participant. You were elected to be a voice of leadership for our community. Its time you stood up and recognized the essential role we play in the health care system and advocated for the justice that we and our clients deserve. If you chose to remain silent then you can be assured that our voices as well as those of our families and friends will be heard in the next general election.

We are asking you to help remedy this and help our local employer to ratify this strike action and help our PSW's get back to serving the community which is now at a high risk.  Thank you for your assistance in this urgent matter.  Is there a time you could meet with us?


The men and women PSW's of the Canadian Red Cross Assisted Living Program, Sault Ste, Marie Ontario.


Response from Gail Acton:

I am aware that 4,600 Personal Support Workers have been on strike since December 11th. I do not believe it has a devastating impact on elderly and disabled, although PSWs would like you to think so. If the PSW truly had the dignity and independence of our most vulnerable as their prime concern, they would not be handling this strike in this militant and vigilante fashion.
This strike is a political battle that pits the PSWs against the political mismanagement of Red Cross and the Liberal government of Ontario. Red Cross Care Partners have become the second scandal for incompetence, with the first being the tainted blood scandal. Waste and mismanagement have been as much on Red Cross' door step as on the door step of Deb Mathews, Minister of Health, and the bureaucracy that aides and abets a system that has little concern for the vulnerable they serve. Eighty per cent of every dollar spent from the government goes to serve more levels of government employees, and less to the client and the PSW.
All PSWs making $13.00 to $15.00 an hour, as health care providers, have less than 40 hours of Anatomy and Physiology and study in the province of Ontario, and 350 hours or less of academics to become a health care provider. They deserve more money in front line care, but they need to be better educated and hired directly by the seniors, so they learn the skill of customer service and accountability to the customer, and not another government agency. The Government is sailing a sinking ship, and the crew members, such as the existing PSWs, need upgrading and require more knowledge and skills for front line professionals. Shop stewards and union bosses, and especially the government sector unions such as SEIU, are taking bigger wages than the PSW,  and then pitting the PSW and the situation of health care as the only issue.
PSWs you are also victims, and until you change a mentality that says I only have to train this much to get this much, you too are losers in the system that pits vulnerable against vulnerable. This has nothing to do with corporate greed, only with government and union greed.
I may also add that I have been writing to the appropriate Ministries, and spending my own money to battle this ignorance. I conceived and wrote this program, called the Personal Support Worker (PSW), which because of government standards is still the same as twenty years ago, and the battleground is the same.
Certified Caregivers/PSWs are a mandatory service, and as such should not be allowed to strike. Yes you provide an important service, but the costs of nursing have increased thus creating your jobs, and now the government union is taking a portion of your pay. As professionals with education and training, you should be making $20.00 an hour, and if the provincial government took their hands out of the cookie jar, you could be paid the rate you deserve. Currently the $15.00 an hour is sufficient, considering you do not have any Anatomy and Physiology training, the cornerstone of health care.
I have met with political parties to change the 80/20 rule of management by government and ensure that PSWs become better trained and payed. This could be accomplished through a similar program to the Veterans Affairs program for caregivers and putting the hiring of front line workers in the hands of the consumer of the service. In the meantime think of your client and go directly to serve them and not the agency.