How does a resident with dementia react when the person who has been helping them eat, shower and dress suddenly disappears from their lives? How does a long-term care home benefit when the cumulative experience of workers who have spent decades caring for residents are no longer valued?

These are the questions being posed by the Canadian Union of Public Employees in response to Durham Christian Homes laying off about 70 workers as it closes an outdated facility to relocate to a new, modern building in Whitby.

In negotiations with CUPE, the employer demanded concessions from employees including clawback in benefits, wage freezes and lower wages for new hires. When the union refused, the employer decided to lay-off workers.

The employer had already decided to permanently contract out ancillary services – jobs in housekeeping, laundry and food services.

The union is calling on the Ontario government to intervene by revoking the license of the employer’s new home in Whitby, which will be receiving government funding for the next 25 years to subsidize building costs.

“This is appalling behaviour. As a society, I believe we reached a consensus in the pandemic about the value of ensuring good, stable jobs in our long-term care homes. How do wage freezes and contracting out square with honouring frontline workers as heroes?” said Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer of CUPE Ontario.

“Care is a relationship – workers in these homes form bonds with residents when taking care of their needs. Ensuring stability in employment has a direct impact on resident care,” she said. “There are workers at the home who have spent decades of their lives here at the home only to be unceremoniously laid off during a pandemic.”

Durham Christian Homes is a non-profit employer but its CEO, Ruth McFarlane, has a seat on the board of the Ontario Long-Term Care Association. The OLTCA predominantly represents for-profit employers and has lobbied for deregulation of staffing standards over the years.

“Turning around the labour force problems in long term care has to be based on decently paid full-time employment and security. If the provincial government lets long-term care employers abscond from their contracts with their workforce we are on a race to the bottom and we will lose more and more staff,” said Michael Hurley, President of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE).

“This move is completely counter to the province’s recent stated commitments. The Premier should make a clear statement to the workforce of this home and to all long-term care staff in Ontario by telling this employer that their license will be cancelled unless they take these workers and their collective agreement to the new location.”