Residential care workers want pay hike approved by arbitrator

Harry Sullivan
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MILLBROOK - Residential care workers (RCWs) at a local seniors' facility feel they are being short-changed by the provincial government.
"Right now, in our facility, as sad as it is, a dishwasher makes more than a nurse ..." said Angela MacLean, a representative with the International Union of Operating Engineers at Townsview Estates on Abenaki Road.
The RCWs are responsible for looking after the elderly residents, dispensing medication, providing meals, their well-being, daily washing needs and assistance in medical emergency situations, MacLean said.
RCWs at the facility are currently paid $12.74 per hour compared to dishwashers who receive $13.55 per hour, she said. Likewise for housekeeping staff, activity planners and "basically everyone in the building except nursing," said MacLean. "In 2008, they gave pay equalization to basically everyone in the building except nurses."
The union received an arbitration ruling in June stating that the RCWS "did indeed perform work similar to that of higher paid employees at another residential care facility (Northwood Estates in Halifax) and that they should be paid the same rate of pay," but it has not been honoured, MacLean said.
"We won the arbitration but they won't pay it."
Northwood workers are paid $15.73 per hour. However, Keith Menzies, executive director of continuing care with the Department of Health, said those employees are continuing care assistants who provide a different level of care than RCWs, whom he said are not actually nurses.
"Traditionally, the residential care facilities have been a lighter level of care and staffing levels have been at that classification of residential care workers," Menzies said.
And while he acknowledges the arbitrator did rule in the RCWs' favour, "... he was not in a position to compel anybody to pay them."
Regarding Northwood, a large nursing home with 20 residential care beds, Menzies said, they decided to hire CCAs instead of RCWs so there could be greater staffing flexibility with rotating shifts.
"So it is a very different and unique
situation."
And while the department provides funding to residential care facilities, Menzies said, the issue of pay rate is one that should be settled between Townsview and its staff because "we do not involve ourselves in direct negotiations (between a facility and its staff) ..."
MacLean disagreed, saying it is the department that determines the pay scale for each job classification.
Menzies said his department's staff understands the concerns expressed by the RCWs, but "... there are processes at work here that take time. And it also takes money, which at this point in time, we in the Department of Health do not have."
MacLean does not believe that to be the case and feels the $160,000 per year it would take to bring the RCWs up to par with staff at Northwood is a mere drop in the bucket of the health budget.
"At one point they said it would cost too much. They said they would have to pay everyone (other RCWs) if they paid us," she said. "It seems to be over the years, over the last two contracts, the government expects us to back down ... But we're not going away."

Organizations: International Union of Operating Engineers, Department of Health

Geographic location: MILLBROOK, Abenaki Road, Halifax

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