Quebec Chartwell Group Private Seniors' Residences on Strike

No to "Business As Usual" in Seniors' Care! Private Seniors' Care Institutions Must Be Held to Account!

On July 10, workers at seven private seniors' residences went on indefinite strike against their employer. The workers are members of the Quebec Union of Service Employees (SQEES-FTQ) and include nurses and care attendants, kitchen, maintenance and housekeeping workers and employees providing various other services. The residences on strike are in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and the National Capital Region.

Chartwell's "business as usual" can be found on its website, where it describes itself as "an unincorporated, open-ended real estate trust which indirectly owns and operates a complete range of seniors housing communities, from independent supportive living through assisted living to long-term care. It is the largest operator in the Canadian seniors living sector with over 200 quality retirement communities in four provinces, including properties under development." As of June 25, 2018, Chartwell's market capitalization is CAD$3.23 billion having more than CAD$3.01 billion of assets. In 2018, the value of the enterprise is approximately CAD$5 billion."[1]

Fifteen collective agreements are being negotiated, some of which expired as long ago as December 2018. The refusal of the corporation to negotiate in good faith is not only shameless but also cruel given the conditions of the pandemic and the trauma these workers have experienced due to the fact that 87 per cent of deaths from COVID-19 have taken place in understaffed seniors' homes, most of them private.

To add insult to injury, the chair of Chartwell's board is none other than Mike Harris, who as Premier of Ontario unleashed the anti-social offensive in Canada in the 1995-2002 period. In the name of opening Ontario to business, he introduced the policy of paying the rich for the debt and deficits, undermining regulations and inspections in the name of "eliminating red tape," and attacking unions as "greedy" and an unnecessary impediment to efficiency. He opened the doors wide to the privatization of education and health care, including long-term care. He subjected the population to the Thatcherite notion that there is no such thing as "society" and social responsibility. All individuals must fend for themselves.

The strike was triggered after Chartwell systematically refused to consider the demands of its employees or to even present counter-proposals.

Picket outside Chartwell seniors' residence, July 11, 2020.

In terms of wages, workers are demanding a flat rate of at least $15 for all upon hiring and an increase of $1 per hour per year over the next three years. Many of these workers earn less than $15 an hour at present, with many attaining the $13.10 minimum wage only because they are receiving bonuses. Their wage situation is deplorable and does not allow them to live decently, nor is it conducive to retaining and attracting staff in the private retirement home sector. The situation has become particularly intolerable with employees working under the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have devoted themselves body and soul to the protection of residents, often at the risk of their own health, yet their important contribution has received no recognition at all, neither from the private owners nor from governments which permit this to happen.

"The last few months have shown how essential those working with seniors are," said SQEES-FTQ President Sylvie Nelson. "This is true not only for nurses, nursing assistants and orderlies, but also for all auxiliary services such as those working in kitchens, table service, housekeeping, reception... However the largest seniors' private residences in Quebec and Canada, the Chartwell Residences, refuses to respect its workers."

One Chartwell spokesperson shamefully declared that the strikers' wage demands are "disproportionate." "Their monetary demands exceed 25 per cent over three years, and no company can assume increases of this magnitude," she said. Showing the self-serving nature of this "business-model" of seniors' care, she made it clear that the profits of the private investors and owners would not take a hit. Any increase in wages will be passed on to the residents and their families: "We also have to consider the impact of the increases on fees paid by our residents," she said. Residents' fees are the exorbitant "rents" that Chartwell imposes on residents.

The fact is that if a wage demand as modest as the one presented by the workers represents a 25 per cent increase in overall wages, it says a lot about the ruthless exploitation these workers are facing.

Chartwell's arrogant rejection of the needs of the workers and refusal to negotiate wages and working conditions gave the union no choice other than to use its strike mandate. The SQEES-FTQ also holds an unlimited strike mandate for the fall if no progress is made in addressing the needs of the workers.

The demands of the workers address serious issues of understaffing and the imposition of minimum wages on workers who carry out essential duties to look after seniors who have no other line of defence for their well being. The neglect of workers and their working conditions in seniors' homes is the direct outcome of the greed of private owners and their motive to reap the highest possible profit. It is high time the federal and provincial governments set standards for seniors' care. They are also duty-bound to themselves create sufficient facilities for seniors at the highest standards society has attained so that people are not forced into private care, with its exorbitant costs and where they then suffer the owners' mistreatment and neglect.

Picket July 10, 2020 at Chartwell seniors' residence.

Long before the pandemic, nurses and workers and their organizations raised the alarm over and over again about the unacceptable treatment of health care workers and the horrible living conditions of seniors in their care. Neither the government nor the private for-profit corporations paid any attention. When COVID-19 hit long-term care residences far too many of these homes did not implement protocols for a pandemic situation, despite the fact that such protocols are mandatory for seniors' homes, which are repeatedly hit with the flu and contagions of various kinds.

The refusal of Chartwell to recognize the demands of the workers means that the intention of the ruling elite is to carry on "business as usual" as if this an option. To ignore the lessons learned during the pandemic is not an option! Chartwell says it cannot reap the level of profits it desires if it pays the workers what they demand and refuses to negotiate. It must not pass!

Chartwell must be made to negotiate and institute working conditions where there are enough workers, where they are full-time and they are paid a living wage.

The union has a pro-social stand against this "business-model" of seniors' care.

"We must all mobilize against this business model, which -- as we saw during the COVID crisis -- does not reflect the values of sharing and equity that drive Quebec," writes union president Sylvie Nelson. "That model consists of: buying land, constructing buildings, filling them to the brim, cutting costs down to the last penny and making maximum profit for their shareholders on the Toronto Stock Exchange. All at the expense of those -- 80 per cent of whom are women -- who, day after day, often to the detriment of their family life, ensure the well-being of our seniors. This is also done at the expense of Chartwell residents who must challenge indecent rent increases. That's not what we want for our seniors. Chartwell has a long way to go in becoming a responsible corporate citizen."

Chartwell nurses and workers deserve the full support of Canadians. Their fight is our fight! Their fight for working conditions acceptable to themselves and defence of their rights is the fight for the living conditions and defence of the rights of our seniors. These institutions based on narrow private interests must not be permitted to return to "business as usual" and governments must be held to account for permitting this. It shows the utter disregard of governments for their duty to uphold the interests of the people. It shows their utter hypocrisy about being concerned about what happened in long-term care centres during the first phase of the pandemic and they must not be permitted to get away with it. For governments to permit private interests to maintain inhuman conditions at their facilities for both residents and health care workers and professionals should be considered criminal, as are the actions of the private owners of these facilities.

The demands the workers are putting forward point to the need for the empowerment of the working people to determine their working conditions so that they are able to perform their duties and treat people with the dignity they deserve.

No to "Business As Usual" in Seniors' Care! Private Senior's Care Institutions Must be Held to Account!


1. Wikipedia: Chartwell Retirement Residences "is the largest participant in the Canadian seniors housing sector, with over 200 locations (March 31, 2020) across Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. [...] 

This article was published in

Volume 50 Number 26 - July 18, 2020

Article Link:
Quebec Chartwell Group Private Seniors' Residences on Strike: No to "Business As Usual" in Seniors' Care! Private Seniors' Care Institutions Must Be Held to Account! - Louis Lang


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