1,200 workers set to strike Monday at 8 Alberta long-term care homes

EDMONTON - Workers at eight Alberta seniors care homes plan to walk off the job Monday in a legal strike that will affect 1,000 seniors.

About 1,200 staffers work at the eight Extendicare Canada facilities from Athabasca to Lethbridge.

"We believe that Extendicare has acted in an irresponsible manner," Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, told a news conference Friday while announcing the strike action.

"They have created this strike in an effort to maximize their profits at the expense of quality patient care."

The strike is set to begin at 11 a.m. at two Extendicare facilities in Edmonton, two in Calgary along with homes in Red Deer, Mayerthorpe, Lethbridge and Athabasca.

Seven of the facilities are long-term care homes, which provide around-the-clock nursing and living care to seniors too ill or frail to care for themselves.

The Fairmont Park facility in Lethbridge provides supportive living care.

Smith stressed that while it expects Extendicare to have contingency care plans in place, his staff will leave the picket line if asked to assist a senior in emergency "life and limb" situations.

The AUPE took strike action after mediated talks with Extendicare broke down.

The union said Extendicare bailed out on scheduled mediation talks set for Tuesday and again on Friday, leaving the workers with little choice.

A spokesperson for Extendicare, based in Markham, Ont., could not be immediately reached for comment.

Workers have been without a contract since the end of last year and recently voted overwhelmingly at the eight sites to take strike action as necessary. The lowest pro-strike vote was 93 per cent.

Smith said the Extendicare is pushing for effective reductions in pay along with reduced sick leave and holiday pay despite no drastic change in its bottom line.

Extendicare has 14 facilities in Alberta and receives funding under contract to Alberta Health Services. The other six homes are not represented by AUPE.

Smith said the staffers already earn about 20 per cent less than their counterparts in public facilities. He says many are women who are new to Canada and are working part time.

"They're licensed practical nurses, health care aides, (and) general support staff in dietary and housekeeping," he said.

"They basically run these facilities every single day and make sure everyone is protected."

Extendicare is a for-profit provider with 247 care homes across North America, including centres in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.

The homes involved include Eaux Claires and Holyrood in Edmonton; Cedars Villa and Hillcrest in Calgary and Michener Hill in Red Deer.

Smith also urged Health Minister Fred Horne to investigate the trend of the province contracting private companies to provide care to seniors to ensure patient safety and quality of life is not jeopardized