A last-minute deal between union representatives and management kept support staff at Hillcrest Place off the picket lines.
Two weeks ago, approximately 100 employees made up of health-care aides, dietary aides, housekeepers, recreation staff and kitchen staff at the personal care home in Brandon voted to start striking yesterday if an agreement wasn’t reached.
On March 18, less than one week before CUPE Local 2526 was about to take stop work action, a deal was ratified by union members and Extendicare, the private company that manages Hillcrest.
"The negotiations were extremely tough and it took a long time," CUPE national representative Glenda Smith said. "It’s not exactly what we asked for but it works toward closing the gap between the private care homes and the provincial care rates."
The union employees, who had been without a contract since 2012, will get retroactive raises of 1.25 per cent in 2012 and 2013.
They get additional raises of 1.25 per cent in 2014 and 2015, when the agreement runs out.
The wage increases were important, according to Smith, because staff make between $3 to $5 less at the private facility compared to their provincial counterparts.
The wage discrepancy has led to periods of time when the facility is short-staffed, adding stress and creating an unsafe work environment, the union said.
"The last thing members want to do is go on strike, but they also realize at the same time that because they weren’t taking a stand with their employer they were $3 to $5 behind," Smith said. "At some point you have to take a stand."
The agreement also offers four days of pay for every year of service for longtime employees as part of a pre-retirement package, meaning an employee with 30 years of service opting for retirement would be paid out 120 days.
RRSP contributions from the company get bumped 0.5 per cent from a previous matching three per cent to 3.5 per cent.
A new health-care spending account is established, giving full-time employees $100 per year to spend on health essentials such as glasses. Part-time employees receive $75.
While Smith chose not to divulge the percentage of employees who voted for the new contract, she said it met the requirements of the 50 per cent plus one to accept the deal.
Had they not met the criteria, employees would have walked off the job yesterday and gotten $300 per week in strike pay.
"Everyone hearts would have been breaking if we had to strike, but we have an essential service agreement with the employer, so that would have seen reduction in departments but we would have still been there providing life and limb," Smith said.
The deal was facilitated with the help of a conciliation officer, who was appointed by the provincial government.
"Most of us are very happy with the agreement and it’s better than being out of the picket line," said Phyllis Denbow, president of the local union and health-care aide at Hillcrest.
Those sentiments were echoed by Extendicare regional director Cathy Hauck.
"We’re very pleased that an agreement was reached and ratified before any job action was to take place because the provision of care and services to our residents is our top priority," Hauck said. "It’s great we will see that continuity of care."
» Twitter: @CharlesTweed