USW activists mobilize around long-term care workers, residents in Canada

More than 1,300 residents of long-term care and retirements homes in Ontario died since the Covid-19 pandemic began, and thousands more have been infected with the virus. Several workers also died as a result of workplace exposure to the disease.

The problem has gotten so bad that the Canadian military has been deployed to the country’s capital of Ottawa to help keep order at long-term facilities, which have been ravaged by the virus.

A May 14 report based on the observations of Canadian Armed Forces personnel who Premier Doug Ford deployed to five hard-hit centers in late April to help provide medical care during the pandemic, also details insufficient staff training and inadequate protocols to stop the spread of the virus, poor sanitation, resident neglect, worker burnout, and more.

Workers, including USW members in District 6, have been sounding the alarm for many year, before the pandemic began, about these conditions of long-term facilities and the lack of resources available to caregivers. District 6 Area Coordinator Richard Leblanc said that despite the many challenges presented to health care workers as a result of this virus, he hopes the moment is not wasted and action is taken to right the many wrongs being revealed as the pandemic unfolds.

“The public is now listening and on our side,” said Leblanc. “Many will be paying attention to what the government will do to ensure workers have the working conditions they deserve and that the residents are given the care they need to be treated in respect and dignity.”

Leblanc and his fellow members of the D6 Health Care Council organized a letter-writing campaign around this issue, urging people to demand a public inquiry by Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, into these conditions.

Last Wednesday, May 27, Ford announced the province would be taking over several of Ontario’s worst-hit long-term care homes, including four of the facilities listed in the military report.

On the other side of Canada, members of USW Local 1-207 also took part in a separate letter campaign in support of care workers in Alberta.

The provincial government announced, on May 20, a $2.00 per hour increase for health care aides (HCAs), that excluded many other workers, like vital licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and general support workers.

Local 1-207 President Ray White and his fellow members have organized a coordinated response to this senseless decision. Dozens have sent letters to the local Minister of Health, urging the government to ensure the value of their efforts is accounted for as they risk their lives for their patients.

“It is our view that all workers in long-term care or any of our other care facilities should all get this increase,” said White.

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