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CORNWALL – The union representing 20 care and support workers at Heritage Manor, a 43 bed retirement home in Cornwall, is warning residents and the community their employer has threatened to close the retirement home to avoid contract talks.

“They told us they couldn’t afford to go to arbitration and risk having to pay us fair wages,” says Tina Leclair, President of Local 3451 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). “They have repeatedly threatened to close the home.” Before talks broke off last week, David Nelson, a director of McBane and Associates who represents the numbered company that owns Heritage Manor, said he would shut down the home to avoid proceeding to arbitration.

Like hospital workers, Heritage Manor workers send unresolved labour disputes to arbitration under the Hospital Labour Disputes Resolution Act. An independent arbitrator would normally hear arguments from both sides and decide what the collective agreement should be, taking into account such factors as wages in other homes and the employer’s ability to pay. “It’s an unbiased process,” says CUPE National Representative Susan Yuile-Assaly. “Both parties put forward proposals and arguments to back them up – then an impartial arbitrator decides what’s fair under the circumstances.”

“We already earn considerably less then our counterparts in other retirement homes,” says Leclair. “We are not asking for anything unreasonable – just a living wage and decent benefits.” Workers have not received an increase in general wages since March 2002. With inflation at 3.5% in 2002 and 2003, they have lost 7% in real wages.

“This employer has a history of pleading poverty to avoid paying fair wages,” says Yuile-Assaly. “Since the first contract in 1990 went to arbitration they’ve cried poverty at subsequent arbitrations, all the while investing in renovations and capital improvements of their property.” The first arbitration award was not even implemented by Heritage Manor and workers are effectively earning 1993 wages today. Registered Practical Nurses at Heritage earn only 10 to 12 dollars an hour, with very poor benefits.

“The owners are willing to invest in the physical building, but not in the workers or the care of residents,” says Yuile-Assaly. “They’ve pocketed increases in rent over the years and they are earning profits on the backs of these workers.” The retirement home industry is 100% for-profit and almost entirely unregulated. Retirement homes are covered under the Tenant Protection Act, which for 2003 states that owners can increase the rent by 3.9%. Once a resident leaves, the Employer can charge whatever they can get for the bed.

“They are trying to intimidate us with the threat of a shutdown, and it won’t work,” says Leclair. “They are telling us we will all lose our jobs if we follow the only fair process available to us to try and achieve a fair contract. In doing so, they are creating a climate of fear and uncertainty for residents and the community will be outraged.”

“We will continue to fight for a fair collective agreement,” says Leclair. “We care for our residents and we will continue to work around the clock to improve their quality of life. We also urge residents to support us in our struggle for fair wages and benefits.” Heritage Manor workers provide lodging, food, housekeeping, laundry, 24-hour supervision, nursing care, assistance with the activities of daily living and social and recreational activities to elderly residents.


For further information, please contact:

Tina Leclair
President, Local 3451

Susan Yuile-Assaly, CUPE National Rep

Robert Lamoureux, CUPE Communications