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ARCH committed to reaching agreement with unionized workers, hospice director says (2 photos)

Unionized ARCH employees set up information lines, concerned about overtime, seniority, wellness days

A group of Algoma Residential Community Hospice (ARCH) employees, represented by Unifor Local 1359, have set up information lines outside the Sault’s end of life care facility on Fourth Line. 

“The union’s been negotiating since July 2018 but they’ve not been able to get anywhere with management to this point,” said Cathy Humalamaki, Unifor Local 1359 president, speaking to SooToday in a telephone interview.

Unifor Local 1359 represents a total of 34 registered nurses (RNs), registered practical nurses (RPNs), personal support workers (PSWs) and one chef at the hospice.

Among the issues are overtime and seniority rights, Humalamaki said.

The union, Humalamaki added, also wants days off described as wellness days for its employees.

“It’s mental health. When you’re dealing with end of life care, you’re dealing with that every day, you’re saying goodbye to people you’ve been caring for, and it’s very hard on them.”  

“Everything’s on the table right now,” said Theresa Mudge, ARCH executive director, speaking to SooToday Thursday.

“We honour and respect wellness in the workforce. In every industry, fatigue does happen and it is preventable. We care about our employees and we’re looking to find win-win solutions. We are committed to fair and respectful negotiations,” Mudge said.

As for seniority, Mudge said “Unifor wants seniority language that is in no other collective agreement in the province. In contrast, ARCH’s seniority proposals are common in collective agreements, and use seniority in normal ways for things like vacation scheduling, job postings, hours of work, and job protection.”

“ARCH has proposed the same wage increase that was agreed to by Unifor for healthcare workers across northern Ontario just last year, as well as additional compensation increases to recognize their continued hard work. No one knows whether and how the current Ontario government may further overhaul our healthcare sector (therefore) it is important that the parties act with urgency to secure a binding collective agreement before more changes are made,” Mudge said.

The ARCH executive director said “Unifor wants to restrict volunteers from providing the type of help and assistance they have contributed since ARCH’s creation.”

“We believe volunteers provide essential and vital help to ARCH and the families that we support. We have proposed collective agreement language to ensure that our use of volunteers will not cause the layoff of any employee. Unfortunately, Unifor is insistent that ARCH significantly restrict volunteers from providing the help they have contributed for the past decade.”

In regard to Unifor’s concern with overtime, Mudge stated “ARCH pays overtime in accordance with the law, and always has. In accordance with the Employment Standards Act, ARCH pays overtime for all hours worked over 44 in a week at time and one half the regular rate of pay. Fortunately, ARCH’s staffing model is significantly more generous than those at hospitals or long term care homes in the region, with a staff to patient ratio of three staff to 10 residents. This ratio helps us to avoid requiring employees to work overtime, provides them more stable hours of work, and helps ARCH control costs as a not for profit organization.”

From ARCH’s viewpoint, Mudge said Unifor wants to impose its Extendicare collective agreement on ARCH. 

“Aside from its seniority language...Unifor’s proposals are largely copied from the collective agreement between Unifor and Extendicare. (But) Extendicare is a multi-million dollar, for profit long term care business.  Extendicare had a reported net income in Canada of more than $32 million for 2018, and operates 118 locations across Canada. Its collective agreement with Unifor is the result of multiple rounds of collective bargaining over decades.”  

“In contrast, ARCH is a 10 bed, not for profit hospice in the city of Sault Ste. Marie trying to negotiate its first collective agreement with Unifor. We receive limited funding from the Ministry of Health, and we are largely dependent upon public donations, goodwill, and volunteer support to operate and provide support to families and persons in the final stages of life. Ultimately, ARCH does not have the resources of Extendicare, and we would not be able to operate under the Extendicare collective agreement. Instead, we are committed to negotiating a fair and respectful collective agreement that reflects our workplace and our economic reality,” Mudge said.

“We believe in our employees and we greatly value the important work they do...the parties have agreed to continue bargaining, and we are committed to finding a resolution without any kind of work stoppage.” 

“We’ve put forward 13 proposals, Unifor has put forward nine...we’re hopeful that we’re going to find resolution to these matters,” Mudge said. 


Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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