Building Solidarity: Looking back on the CarePartners strike

OPSEU members holding picket signs during CarePartners strike.

Local 294 is marking a significant anniversary today.

Six months ago, a strike launched by workers at CarePartners in Niagara Region and Norfolk County ended.

CarePartners is a for-profit agency under contract to the area’s Community Care Access Centre, which gets its funding from the provincial government.  The workers deliver in-home nursing services like dialysis, wound treatment and oncology care to patients who might otherwise need to get that care in hospitals.

OPSEU had been certified to represent CarePartners’ registered nurses, registered practical nurses and administrative staff in August 2013 and was looking to secure a first collective agreement.  Bargaining broke down in April of 2015 and the workers went on strike.

On November 27, 2015 the local and the employer agreed to go to mediation, backed by binding arbitration, to resolve issues that were outstanding.

The workers wanted to maintain the benefits and vacation language they had before unionizing.  CarePartners argued the union’s proposals were “too rich” for a first collective agreement.

The story became province-wide news when the employer demanded that its nurses pay both the employee and the employer contributions, plus administration costs, to the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan – the new public pension plan being proposed by the Kathleen Wynne government.

Earlier this month, the arbitrator issued his award – which included a 1.4 per cent wage increase.  The union’s proposals were upheld in the areas of job security, layoff and recall.  The arbitrator also ruled that vacation entitlement and eligibility for the RRSP program shall remain the same as it was before unionizing.

Other highlights included paid mandatory training and an increase in the kilometre allowance for employees who use their own vehicle for work, from $0.39 to $0.42 per kilometre.

But there were also victories that you won’t see on paper, like the solidarity built among the workers during the eight-month strike.  

“It was one of the toughest things we had to go through, but we learned a lot and became a strong group, like a family,” says Local 294 president Erin Warman.  “Community nurses perform their work individually, but we were out there together fighting for what was right.”

Thanks to the hard work of the local, employees at CarePartners have noticed a difference in the workplace.  Everyone is advocating harder for themselves and for patients.  “It’s very promising,” says Warman. “We now have a contract. The lines of communication have opened. Things look like they are going to start to change for the better. “

And there is an opportunity for more change this summer.  The CarePartners contract is up for negotiation again in August.