Manor workers deserve a local and transperant board

To the Expositor:

In the December 8, 2012 edition of the Sudbury Star, reporter Carol Mulligan lists the details of staff layoffs at two St. Joseph’s Health Centre Long Term Care facilities. A day or so later, Ms. Mulligan’s front page headline reads “Scrutiny of nursing homes needed.” Her article told the story of Donald Savoie, who gained an audience with the Ontario Ombudsman to discuss his father’s horrific experience in an Extendicare facility!

On the streets of Ontario’s towns and cities, our elementary and secondary school teachers walk temporary picket lines to protest Bill 115, which an Ontario government that has the audacity to call itself “liberal” is attempting to use to freeze public sector wages and erode workers’ ability to bargain for fair collective agreements.

Unless you have worked in the public sector, you may not see how the above issues are connected, but they most certainly are! In our most crucial institutions such as hospitals, schools, LTC facilities, community living and public health, how can a permanent, long term, qualified and dedicated workforce be maintained when workers constantly face threats of layoffs, wage freezes, wage rollbacks, loss of benefits and attacks on their collective bargaining processes?

These types of problems, unfortunately, are not limited to “the other side of the bridge” and dramatically affect many people’s lives right here at home.

Having been employed in Manitoulin Centennial Manor’s nursing department for many, many, years and having been very active in the union which represents the vast majority of workers there I have come to the conclusion that the past negative actions of the Manor’s Board of Management, their various management companies and contracted human resources managers were against the unionized workers and the stress this placed on staff was the “root cause” of the black cloud that seems to constantly hang over this local facility!

Over the years (unlike the majority of Manitoulin’s public sector), for some odd reason, the details of contract talks between CUPE Local 2165 and the Manor board has never been published in local media. So, for the most part, the public is never made aware of what each side is seeking. This is wrong and I believe it is what gives some people an “anti-union sentiment”! Whether it is the fault of management, union or this local newspaper it needs to be corrected to provide transparency and accountability to the taxpayers. Hopefully, the editor will keep this in mind and get this info out when the time comes.

In my time as an employee at the Manor, contract time was always a very worrisome and stressful time for the workers and it was created by the same board of management rhetoric starting with, always, firstly stating that the facility was broke and that it would have to close if there was any further financial strain, then they would demand wage rollbacks and reduction of benefits and tell us that if their demands were not met then there would have to be layoffs! Same spiel every time!

Even though the majority of the other CUPE locals across the province were settling with their respective boards for a certain percentage of wage increase, the good old Manor board would remain belligerent and, for every contract during my time there, they would force unnecessary and very expensive arbitration! In the end we were always awarded the “status quo” by the arbitrator, so all that expense was for nothing!

Because of past bad press (financial situation and non-transparent and non- accountable board policies) it is very clear that the board is in full “damage control” to improve PR. The following are examples of just this:

– calling an audit by WSIB and the Ministry of Labour proof of excellent resident care is ridiculous. Both of these organizations deal only with worker health and safety issues and have nothing to do with patients or residents in facilities. I know, because I was union co-chair of our health and safety committee for a year;

– a 45-year celebration: doing something like that five years prior to the Golden Anniversary just doesn’t make sense;

– highlighting of the Manor Christmas party in the paper prior to it happening—never seen that before;

– and, most recently, extensive front-page news of the facility’s debt being forgiven—no problem with that being released to the press in a timely fashion.

Now please don’t get me wrong, it’s a good thing that the debt has been forgiven (keeping in mind, how did it happen in the first place?) and the Manor’s Christmas party is a wonderful event for the residents and their families (with a great amount of effort by the workers to make it happen).

But now that the Manor is in the clear, does anyone out there really think that all of a sudden the board will become transparent and accountable to the public? Will their meetings be pre-advertised in local media with the minutes being made available to the public later? Personally, I think not!

If the chairman and the “old guard” of this board are allowed to remain in office by the municipalities, I predict many further problems down the road, especially for this facility’s most valuable asset: its workers!

At this point, I would like to take the opportunity to commend all those who have stepped up and written letters to the editor on the Manor issues, especially my old acquaintance Bud McConnell, whom I respect very much for his opinion on his individual situation and for his continued support of Manor workers. As for Mr. Glenn Black’s extensive statements, I hope he will share with us his motivation for all of a sudden becoming a self-made expert on long-term care. His issue with, and opinion on, resident restraints sounds like it may have applied more to “back in the day” when I started nursing when we put some residents in full vest restraints and tied them to the bed frames and I wonder if he realizes how the extreme pain of a broken hip compares to a patient using a simple safety device. Probably not, but hey, he’s entitled to his opinion!

The publisher of this newspaper refers to individuals who write letters to the editor on similar issues in a semi-regular fashion as “print bloggers.” A humbling statement and although these bloggers are sometimes entertaining and informative for readers, I have come to believe that too much of one opinion from an individual can become counter-productive. This being said, this letter will be the last installment of my print blog in regards to the Manor and Long Term Care.

When I first started at the Manor I was told by management that I was to be an “advocate for the residents” but I quickly learned that if that advocacy shed any bad light at all on management then it became an “infidelity to the employer” and you were disciplined for that!

I have one last point that I would like the public to consider. I see absolutely no reason why huge amounts of taxpayer dollars need to be spent to keep a private operator like Extendicare pulling the strings in a public home that has its own board, administrator and management that should be perfectly capable of running it effectively.

I hope to see others voicing their opinions on this ever-contentious issue to keep pressure on for the final goal of transparency and accountability to the public.

I sincerely hope that the future holds better days for the dedicated unionized staff at the Manor and that the facility becomes a viable and sustainable operation and that the staff finally be treated with the fairness and respect that they have always deserved.

One thing I am sure of, though, is that in regards to delivering the best possible care, our Manor workers will continue to get’er done!

Greg Young
Big Lake