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Long-term care workers plead with York Region council for better deal

'Respect the frontline workers that were hailed as heroes, that risked their lives, that made incredible sacrifices,' union leader says in bid to avoid arbitration
CUPE Local 905 representatives gave out leaflets to council members amidst bargaining for long-term care workers.

Newmarket and York Region long-term care workers gave their bargaining message directly to council members with a demonstration outside region headquarters today.

Bargaining representatives from CUPE Local 905 passed out leaflets as council members and staff drove into the building ahead of a committee of the whole meeting. The effort comes with York Region and its long-term care workers negotiating for a new deal, with the region moving it to interest arbitration.

CUPE 905 president Katherine Grzejszczak said they want the region back at the bargaining table, and council should heed their demands amidst the upcoming budget process.

“We need investment in York Region long-term care,” she said. “We want council to know how important this issue is to the frontline long-term care workers. We want to see more staff to provide dignified care to the people they care for. We want permanent, full-time employment. That’s not an unreasonable ask.”

More than 500 unionized workers at the region’s long-term care homes have been without a new collective agreement since March 2020, when the previous agreement expired. Negotiations for a deal were delayed during the pandemic. Union demands include wage increases, improving staff-to-patient ratios, more permanent employment and improvements to management.

York Region director of corporate communications Patrick Casey said it has already reached freely negotiated agreements with non-LTC employees under CUPE and the Ontario Nurses' Association. Casey said there have been nine bargaining meetings already for long-term care since October. 

"The region will continue to negotiate with the assistance of a mediator-arbitrator to help the parties reach a fair and timely outcome," Casey said. "Our strong preference is to arrive at a settlement that maintains fair and reasonable wage and employment conditions and that is also respectful of our taxpayers." 

Union members have said employees are concerned with current working conditions brought on by staffing levels. CUPE union steward and bargaining committee member Tharmini Vasulo said it is hard getting leave. 

“I myself am overworked,” she said. “Getting a leave for me is hard. They don’t have staff to replace me … I want to have time off with my family as well.” 

Another union steward and bargaining team member, Peggie Sutherland, said the improvements are important to give seniors the care they deserve.

“We need more staff, continuity of staff,  so the residents are seeing the same face every day,” she said. “There’s got to be dignity for these elderly people that basically built our wonderful communities."

Casey said the region continues to bargain in good faith and remains optimistic that an agreement will be negotiated.

"We appreciate and value the efforts of all our employees and thank them for their ongoing commitment to public service during this important process," he said.

The union plans to present to York Region council in February when it will hold budget meetings.

 Grzejszczak said they would like the region back at the bargaining table rather than going through arbitration, which could take months.

“Respect the frontline workers that were hailed as heroes, that risked their lives, that made incredible sacrifices,” she said. “They can settle this collective agreement quickly if they come back to the bargaining table and make a fair offer.”