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Striking PSWs take to the picket line

Wednesday, December 11, 2013   by: Darren Taylor

With two days notice, Sault Ste. Marie and area Personal Support Workers (PSWs), who provide home care to the elderly and disabled, and employed by the Canadian Red Cross and Red Cross Care Partners, officially went on strike as of 7 a.m. Wednesday morning.

The labour group that represents the striking workers is SEIU Healthcare. 

About 150 PSWs work for the Canadian Red Cross and Red Cross Care Partners in the Sault and area, and joined several thousand other PSWs province-wide in the strike action that began today. snapped this photo of the striking PSWs Wednesday, as they picketed in frigid weather at the corner of Elgin Street and Bay Street, near the local Community Care Access Centre (CCAC) office.

The workers have been without a new contract since April, local PSW Christine Oberholzer told us. 

“Right now, none of us want to be on strike and we want to be taking care of our clients, it’s very unfortunate that we have to go through this to get what we need…sometimes you have to take a stand.”

What are the issues?

Oberholzer told us: “We would like a wage increase, but that would be an added bonus…primarily, it’s the wear and tear on our vehicles to get to the homes of our clients, and we don’t get enough compensation in return for that.”

Top wage for a PSW is currently about $15 an hour.

“We would like to see an extra two dollars an hour, that would be greatly appreciated,” Oberholzer said.

Job security is not considered an issue, but, echoing Oberholzer’s comments, PSW Bev Kelly said: “We can’t keep enough PSWs in this field because of gasoline costs for our vehicles…we’re losing $700 out of our own pockets a year in gasoline.”

“My own car is finished,” Kelly said.

Kelly added: “I’m a second income in our home, but a single mom, for example, wouldn’t be able to work for the Red Cross to support a family.”

Regarding benefits, the PSWs told us they have to work 1352 hours a year from July to June in order to receive benefits, but have to wait for benefits for another year if they fail to reach that number of hours worked in that time frame.

In response to the strike action, Toronto-based Canadian Red Cross Director of Communications Tanya Elliott told in a telephone interview Wednesday: “A memorandum of settlement was reached November 12 and it was recommended by the union and us as the employer to the membership, but unfortunately it was not ratified.”

Elliott said: “It’s important to emphasize the safety and well-being of our clients is top priority.”

“We do have contingency plans in place and we’ll be making every effort to minimize disruption of services to our clients.”

Elliott told us: “We have detailed case plans in place for our clients and we’ll be working very closely with the Community Care Access Centre and contacting clients directly who are facing disruption in their service, as many of them have a high level of need.”

Elliott said “a lot of options” are being considered, which could involve transfer of some clients on an interim basis to other service providers.

Negotiations have been going on for several months, and Elliott said at this time there are no talks scheduled with the PSWs, “but the lines of communication are open.” 

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k9teeth 12/11/2013 4:14:13 PM Report

Let's be realistic here...
To be a PSW all you need to take is 7 classes at Sault College, and then you get a certificate after your placement.
Raising the wages artificially because we value the work they do is insane.
Welcome to "Social Services" and "Human Services". In the real world people don't get paid based on the value of the job they do but based on the economy.

This is the type of job you want people working at because they love what they do, not the pay check they get for it. If you think PSW's should get paid closer to what Nurses make have them go back to school and become Nurse.
JediMindTrick 12/11/2013 4:16:52 PM Report

Transportation compensation definitely sounds reasonable.

"the PSWs told us they have to work 1352 hours a year from July to June in order to receive benefits"

... I wish I only needed to work 26 hrs/week to get benefits.
robcon 12/11/2013 5:41:40 PM Report

K9 Teeth, You are so ignorant and shallow!!! I hope someday you need homecare and you cant get any because they were all gone to find a career that paid them enough to live. You make me sick with your ignorance!!You are definitely someone I would love to debate where the bar of soap goes!!!! Just sayin!!
choniofthewoods 12/11/2013 6:59:02 PM Report

I find peoples responses interesting. People who do psw for a living are very special individuals indeed. They are the ones looking after our mothers, grandmothers,and one day ourselves. Not everyone can do this type of work.

Human services...interesting that the ones who take care of society are valued so little compared to other jobs that do not need education ie) construction.

They are not asking for a lot. Why shouldn't they be compensated for using their cars?

And 7 courses or so is approx two semesters in school and it costs money to get educated in this field. Many of these individuals who go to school have young children to support.

I just wish people would have some compassion for others and less judgmental on others who want to make a living supporting their families. I think that if people really love and approve of themselves they judge less and love more.

roxpin 12/11/2013 7:09:43 PM Report

Top wage 15$ , Try 22$
Meli_J 12/11/2013 7:12:38 PM Report

Choniofthewoods, I completely agree!! PSWs spend their days caring for people. going into their homes, cleaning them, cleaning their homes, making sure safety is a priority, they are lucky if they aren't covered in bodily fluids at the end of the day, and when the time comes, they hold people's hands while they die. Not everyone can do this job (and those who do this job, and don't like it, should not be PSWs) Think our hospitals are overcrowded now? What would happen if PSWs ceased to exist? Give them what they deserve!! Which is way more than they get now!!
Meli_J 12/11/2013 7:15:41 PM Report

Roxpin, where did you come up with that number?
kirby0162 12/11/2013 7:24:15 PM Report

Meli J, I would like to know as well, I'm a home health care PSW and that wage isn't anywhere close to what home care PSW's make, maybe in a long term care facility, but not home care. Maybe I should consider going to work for whoever pays that wage!
leish 12/11/2013 7:32:55 PM Report

I work as a PSW and it is hard work and until you work as a PSW you don't have the right to make negative comments. PSWs work really hard and they do deserve to get paid more then $15 an hour. It doesn't matter how many courses they take, they deserve more then what they are getting.
mac headrick 12/11/2013 7:37:57 PM Report

The article mentions briefly something that is very important. The union and management reached a memorandum of settlement November 12/2013 it wasn't accepted by the membership.

Wow this puts the union in a very difficult position at the table as they do not appear to have the support of their membership.

Now as to the wage increase and car allowance I support this goal. Look if the Liberal government can waste 1.2 billion dollars to accomplish nothing; pay the salaries at the Ontario Power Generation they can afford to pay the personal support workers an increase.
laffrenere 12/11/2013 7:49:24 PM Report

$22/hr? Not with Red Cross as a homecare worker you dont. Ladies who have been there for 20 pls years are still only at $15 and change.
Registered 12/11/2013 7:53:06 PM Report

Yes, let's be realistic here. I very much agree with k9teeth on this one.
I too, was a HCA (health care aide), while in school to further my health care education, and am fully aware of the hard work and sweat that endures with this line of work. Years ago when I worked as a home care personal support worker, I was making almost 13.00/hr. Yes, I used my own car, and had 'crappy' hours, but I enjoyed what I was doing for the time being. Would I ever continue being a PSW till retirement? Never. Back breaking, difficult at times, the pay wasn't great, little respect,and not to forget the hitting out by some uncooperative patients...
I say too, if you want a wage increase, try your best to get more education, and with more education, usually comes a higher wage, more respect, and better benefits. I understand the opportunity for further, higher education isn't an option for everyone, but we all have choices we make, and live with. Regardless, PSW's do deserve respect for what they do, for so many, for such little financial gain.
Norm 12/11/2013 8:01:19 PM Report

They deserve better wages. Thousands of government bureaucrat's sit around and do little and receive huge taxpayer funded wages. PSW's do a great service and help ease the load for high paid nurses.

robcon 12/11/2013 8:47:44 PM Report

Ok "Registered" is not making you any smarter!!! You and K9 are both ignorant!! First of all PSW's are educated!! Second of all, if they can't make a living at what they do... who will take care of your loved ones in their home??????? I am a nurse and I see first hand how hard these PSW's work. They are the future for your loved ones!!! If they all go get another career, who will do their job?? And the one smart thing you did say... you are right... crappy pay, crappy hours, use your own car, pay your own gas, split shifts, start at 6am end at 10pm. The list goes on, but you should know cause your registered!!
Registered 12/11/2013 8:58:15 PM Report

I never wrote that PSW's are not educated; not wise to assume, robcon. What I said was that higher education usually equals higher pay. You say you're a nurse, and I ponder why you became a nurse, when you could have stayed a PSW? Anyhow, it's not an argument, I stated a simple fact. Whether you believe higher education is ignorant or not, that's your issue, robcon.
As a nurse manager, I see it everyday...

And I do know that, robcon, because I am registered. :)

HowAbooutSomeLogic 12/11/2013 9:01:24 PM Report

"Raising the wages artificially because we value the work they do is insane."

I couldn't agree more!

How can you pay people based the sum of their benefits to society and call yourselves civilized humans? Animals, the lot of you!

robcon 12/11/2013 9:13:14 PM Report

Wish I knew where you work, "how about some logic.. We could tell your boss you don't think your work warrants a raise so you could make a living!!! I so can't wait till you all need some homecare and there is no one to do it because they couldn't make a living at it!!!
Registered 12/11/2013 9:32:35 PM Report

You're on fire, robcon....

People do make a living off being a PSW, as do the burger flippers at McDonald's, and the sorters at Home Depot, and the front desk hotel workers at the Delta, and many other lower wage earners.

Like I said, your job/career is a choice. These comments were not made to offend anyone; you seem to be the only one offended.
AndrewRwho? 12/11/2013 9:53:29 PM Report

wow to all this negativity! does anyone have experience in this field really?? bc I think some registered person is not a team player!! way to value the rest of your team there management, im better so no one else deserves a fighting chance to have a sustainable job bc they only went to school for a year!! its a fact that psw work is valued very highly by actual people who need it, if I was an incontinent, unwell, bedridden individual, I couldn't pay more for someone to treat me with dignity, respect, comfort and compassion, which I assume would never be you judging by recent comments. iv had family members who were cared for by psw's and if they were not around, I might not have had time for work and would cost the government even more money still!! so one question I pose is, what is it to you if some actual kind caring person feels their life calling is to care for others ("respecting you elder")decides enough is enough and that their employers are undervaluing them by dispensing monetary gains in the pockets of the people who get to work 9-5, have time for their own families at one of their vacation homes, go on multiple trips at any given moment, ect, when all they want is a little extra money to purchase a home over time or a newer vehicle? what is it to you??
robcon 12/11/2013 9:54:22 PM Report

Go to the picket line with your attitude and see if I am the only one offended by your rudeness!!! Oh and I really am glad you did change profession, Homecare doesn't need people like you!!!
T-pot 12/11/2013 10:26:28 PM Report

I don't think a $2 raise is unreasonable. I was quite surprised that they only make $15/hr.

How much driving does a PSW do though? I mean, how many houses per day do they visit?

I can't see $2/hr raises if it's just one house. It'd be the same as me driving to work, then back home. But if it's a few houses a day, i can see the justification.
robcon 12/11/2013 10:49:30 PM Report

My last comment was to Registered.... wouldn't want to offend anybody else. I also missed one of Registered comments. I was not assuming anything, if you paid attention I was also addressing the other rude person!!!
AndrewRwho? 12/11/2013 11:15:56 PM Report

*("respecting your elders")
AndrewRwho? 12/12/2013 12:04:54 AM Report

*a vehicle which you are required to own to gain employment? what happens when your little crap car decides to kick the curb?
anyone know the amount of pay considered within the lines of poverty?
expenses include rent, without geared to income, anywhere from like 650-700 and up! theres a third of the income, and then you need to pay insurance, oh, that's starting at 100 for lucky people, maybe 200 and more for those new drivers, then anyone deserves a phone, landline or cell, anywhere from 30 and up, maybe those working class shouldn't have cable, sat, or internet bc they cant afford it anyways, which would be like 100 and up, then theres puc which is rising, like maybe 60 for and apt that's inclusive then over 100? in a house?, well I forgot to mention the gas in a car, to get to and from work, bc you need it you cant save by taking the bus, then to drive to various homes where you provide support, maybe 200/mth depending on your vehicle and family needs and distance you live from work, without those benefits one might need to cover their prescriptions $? then the killer, we all have to eat so depending on family size you might need to spend 3-5 hundred, give or take a little, then toiletries, depending on the family make up may require more or less again, and then debt repayment (many for the year they spent at college) and oops, sorry, im all out of money and my car broke down, maybe next payday i can fix it.... meanwhile, some guys loosing sleep cuz he just cant figure out where he should fly to for this joyus holiday with his family? plain and simple, justice for psws
and i suppose for those double income families, they don't qualify for child tax so have expenses for every child, and those single income families, well, you get to pay baby sitters at night and all other expenses as well, on your own, with little support.
would 200 really make a big difference? no, but it gives a little leeway for a working citizen, and yes, there are different pay rates for different qualifications, but really, no offence, personal support is essential, a fast burger is not!! bahaha
littleone25 12/12/2013 6:31:08 AM Report

Red Cross workers go to about 6-10 different homes in a day some times there is quite a bit of distance between the homes
lizzardskills 12/12/2013 8:36:14 AM Report

k-9 defining ones income based on the amount of schooling is not how things work in the real world. The economy??? Well the economy shows that we have too many seniors living in hallways in hospitals and not enough beds to support them. Higher demand for workers, workers that are NOT being paid nearly enough! They have one of the toughest jobs out there!! Watching people die, physical attributes required, emotional roller coaster, violence from patients. If you aren't going to pay people for the work they do properly, people won't do the work. I guess it all depends on how all of us want to live out our last years. By the sounds of k-9 you will be in a homeless shelter!
imaginer2so 12/12/2013 10:38:54 AM Report

PSW,s are wonderful people. They are expected to use their vehicles run into individuals homes and take care of them in a short amount of time rushing people to take care of their needs. They do the work of 4-5 people in the short amount of time allotted to them.. If Psw's were paid according to their work they would stay with their job and not be constantly looking for a better paying job that can support their family, the amount of money being spent on training new employees could be given in a wage increase so Psw's will stay... Saving money and making people happy all at the same time wow what a concept
Lever-Lover 12/12/2013 12:33:09 PM Report

I am a working psw and with red cross i only make 14.00 an hour and there are some girls who only make 13.00 an hour. I'm a single mom raising a child by myself and I'm struggling and there are alot of us who are struggling. We live in poverty and are lucky to even have a vehicle to work with. I worked in a nursing home before and i made almost 20.00 an hour but had to leave due to back problems. All we want is to be treated like the other psw's who work in nursing homes or the hospital. I don't find it right for us not to be considered essential workers like other psw's. If it wasn't for the workers who do in home care more people would be in nursing homes and in the hospital. We don't make enough money to say that we are working for the money all of us are working for our valued clients. It's just about time that we get more help and treated fairly especially when we are usually at least putting an extra tank of gas in our vehicles out of our own money so we can be sure that our clients needs are being met. That's why we are striking. Think about it hard, What are you going to do when you need home care or your father or mother.
Gurpy 12/12/2013 12:48:33 PM Report

I personally know someone who took the Health Care Aide program back in 1989. Their course was full time from January and ended with graduation in August. That was the first full time one year program offered by Sault College.
roxpin 12/12/2013 1:47:07 PM Report

Meli_J ,nursing homes
Alimentary 12/13/2013 9:56:19 AM Report

Firefighters only need grade 12 and make over a hundred grand. And get to eat, sleep, and watch sports for their whole shift then go to their second job. I think PSW's deserve way more.
2buckbob 12/13/2013 8:06:01 PM Report

I've been a psw for over 21 yrs,I couldn't believe the attitude of some of you rpn's,try doing our job,for a day,because trust me,I know exactly what yous do,,you could never,come close to being a person,that,is kind,gentle,and caring,and you don't think we're worth it,wow,I'm totally amazed at some of the rude comments ,,but I get it,,yous rpn's want big money,to watch us do your job,,step back,rpn's you don't even come close to being worth what you make,,you should all be thanking your fellow workers,the psw's for being paid,barely enough to live on,so you can,enjoy your life,,totally,amazed,,I wouldn't have,only but a few rpn's looking after my family,,,so wise up,,and pay these psw's what there worth.
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Note: Comments that appear on the site are not the opinion of Keep discussions civil and on topic. Refrain from obscenity and don't post anything that your grandmother would be ashamed to read. Those who do not abide by these guidelines will have their membership revoked without notice. If you see an abusive post, please click the link beside the post to report it.
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