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
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
Picket July 10, 2020 at Chartwell
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
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
Private Seniors' Residences on Strike: No to "Business As Usual" in
Seniors' Care! Private Seniors' Care Institutions Must Be Held to
Account! - Louis Lang