Why do employers fight so hard to keep the union out? Because they are afraid of the powerful force that unionized homecare workers can be. They know they will not be able to control us because we will have a say. They are also worried that they will have to spend more money in wages and benefits so homecare workers can have a fair share of the pie.
Yes, it’s about POWER and MONEY, and management will lie, threaten and bribe to keep both.
Employers always start their own campaign as we begin to form our union. In the coming days expect a lot of attention from Paramed. They will send letters to our homes, they will blast our phones with messages, and they will have mandatory in-services to try and intimidate us by communicating lies about the union.
Here is a list of answers to some of the questions you might have as management try to confuse us.
Q: Where did the union get my information?
A: The first thing we will hear from management is that union organizers are invading our privacy by contacting us at home. Management often raises this issue to take our focus away from the real issues of seniority, sick days, fairness in scheduling and respect we need them to address.
The truth is forming a union at our workplace is a very important decision. We spent a lot of time building a list of workers to make sure everyone’s opinion is considered and every Paramed worker has the opportunity to hear about the benefits of being in a union.
Q: Why do you contact me at home?
A: As you know, we cannot contact you at your client’s house and many of our co-workers are often nervous about speaking to union organizers at the workplace – at in-services, for example – for fear of retaliation. Speaking in the comfort of your own home allows us to have an honest and relaxed conversation about the issues that are important to you.
Q: Can I get fired for supporting the union?
A: Without the protection of a union Paramed can fire us in a heart beat. But we know they cannot fire all of us; we are the backbone of their business. This is why we need to stand in solidarity and form a solid block that management cannot break. The fear of getting arbitrarily fired is the very reason why we should support each other and join the union. It is illegal for employers to fire or discriminate against any worker who supports the union. The most effective way to protect ourselves is by being vocal and making our support visible. If we hide our support no one can vouch for it.
Q: Can Paramed lose its CCAC contract because we unionize?
A: No. Paramed employees in Hamilton and North Bay have been SEIU members for years and they continue to successfully bid for CCAC contracts.
Q: What are dues for?
A: Dues are the way we pool our resources in order to win improvements to our working conditions, benefits and pay. For example when we start bargaining with Paramed, other SEIU members of the union will pay to have a lawyer assist us.
Q: How much are union dues?
A: In SEIU the dues are 1.8% of our base salary. Union dues are also tax-deductable. We do not contribute any union dues until a majority of us approve a first contract which we agree is worth paying dues for.
Q: Will we go on strike like the Red Cross members did last year?
A: Strikes are not common in home care. No one will ever force us to go on strike. If we get to a point where we need to put pressure on management to treat us fairly, then there will be a vote and an absolute majority of us would have to be in favour of the strike.
For example: the home care workers at Red Cross voted to have a one day rotation strike last year. Management forced them into that position by refusing to address their issues around mileage. After a few weeks of one-day work stoppages around the province, they did reach an agreement with management that improved their mileage compensation.
Q: What can “the union” guarantee us?
A: The workers are the union! With our union we have the guarantee that we will have the power to bargain with management as equals over things that are important to us like fairness, respect of seniority, sick time and other benefits, compensation for mileage, wages, etc.
Without a union Paramed makes all the decisions alone. When we unionize, they must sit down and negotiate with us.
Q: Can the union guarantee us more hours?
A: The number of hours available to each client is determined by the CCAC. However, the distribution of available hours is done by the agency, Paramed. By being union members we will make sure that the distribution of hours is done fairly and not on the basis of whom you know or who you’re friends with. When it comes to increasing the hours, SEIU is partnering with a lot of clients advocacy groups to demand that the government funds the system better. We need to be unionized to amplify that voice.
Q: Will we lose what we already have?
A: No. Forming a union is about moving forward. By having a union we secure the things we enjoy now and make sure we improve on the ones that could be better.
Q: I heard the unionized workers make less than we do. Is it true?
A: SEIU negotiates and win improvements in all of our union contracts: every single one of them. Each CCAC contract is different. You might find that a union member in North Bay makes less than a non-union worker in Toronto. What we need to consider is the improvements that were made as a result of joining the union.
Q: Management says forming a union will not help us and that nothing will change. Is this true?
A: No. If this were true, why would management try so hard to keep the union out? The truth is they know with a union they must listen to our concerns and take the necessary steps to fix them.
Q: I have heard that if we unionize we will no longer be able to talk directly with our supervisors. Is this true?
A: As union members we are always able to talk and try to solve problems with our supervisors. The difference is that in a non-union workplace the boss always has the final say. In a unionized workplace, if we disagree with management, we can file a grievance and have a fair hearing on the issue.
Q: Why do I need to sign a union card? What does the card mean anyway?
A: Signing a card means that we want to stand together as co-workers to make positive changes at Paramed. It is also a commitment that we make to each other to vote “YES” when the time comes. By law we need a certain percentage of cards signed to call for a vote.
Q: What do you do with the card I sign?
A: When a majority of cards are signed, we take them the Ontario Labour Board – a government agency. The board will then order a vote to be held five business days after we file. Management never sees the cards.
Q: I work very hard. Won’t the union just protect lazy workers?
A: No one builds a union to protect lazy employees. We build a union to win improvements through our collective strength. Forming a union helps us get rid of favouritism at the workplace – making sure that hours are distributed fairly, for example. Are there lazy workers now? Who’s protecting them?
Q: Shouldn’t we give management a chance to make improvements?
A: Management has had plenty of time to make improvements and resolve our issues, but they usually only start taking action when employees like us begin to unite to form a union. That’s our collective power at work! Solutions to our issues and gains can only be protected by a collective agreement. If we don’t form a union, any gains we make today can easily be lost tomorrow because there is no mechanism to enforce them. Management will have plenty of chances to make improvements at the bargaining table.