Workers at Campbell River's New Horizons care centre have been without a contract since voting to join the Hospital Employees Union in November.

New Horizons dispute heads to arbitration

Job action on hold as Hospital Employees Union accepts mediator's recommendation to enter into arbitration for first contract

The long-standing struggle to secure a fair collective agreement for health care workers at New Horizons Care home in Campbell River is not yet over, although job action has been averted.

On June 10, the Hospital Employees’ Union — which represents 130 care and support workers employed by the facility’s private contractor CareCorp — accepted a labour board mediator’s recommendation to resolve the dispute through a mediation and binding arbitration process.

HEU members voted May 26 to approve job action, but the following day CareCorp filed for Section 55 mediation. The union was formed by New Horizons workers in November and had been working without a contract since.

“Despite many months at the bargaining table, CareCorp has been unwilling to negotiate an agreement that will address the low wage and high staff turnover problem at New Horizons,” said Jennifer Whiteside, HEU secretary-business manager.

“You simply cannot provide the seniors living at New Horizons with the continuity and quality of care they deserve, if you don’t maintain a stable, experienced staff team.”

Whiteside says that since CareCorp came into B.C.’s private long-term care market the union has seen a trend where the company seeks to lower staff wages and benefits to support its business model.

The starting wage for a care aide working at New Horizons, for example, is currently $17.50. But in 2010, when the facility opened, the starting wage for a care aide was $18.57. With the drop in wages New Horizons has seen a 55 per cent turnover in staff since CareCorp took over from Park Place in May 2014.

At Sunridge Place in Duncan, health care workers who are also employed by CareCorp have come up against the same problems in attempting to resolve low wage and high turnover problems. The union says since the company acquired the contract more than a year ago, staff turnover has been more than 40 per cent.

And at Inglewood Care Centre in West Vancouver, where CareCorp recently cancelled its contract, the new service provider immediately raised workers’ wages by as much as nine per cent, HEU says.

“Our members deserve a fair and reasonable wage that respects their skill, commitment and dedication to the seniors they care for at New Horizons,” said Whiteside.

The union is awaiting the appointment of a Labour Board mediator who will arbitrate a first collective agreement for New Horizons workers.