A chilly but determined group pounded the pavement for a second day Thursday, in front of Tillsonburg’s Red Cross Care Partners (RCCP) office on Ridout Street.
“We really care about our clients, but we have to do it,” said Debbie Morgan, one of roughly 30 local Personal Support Workers (PSW) out of around 4,500 represented by the Service Employees International Union Healthcare province-wide. SEIUH membership has been working without a contract since the end of March and began picketing Wednesday morning. Those in Tillsonburg service this community as well as outlying areas including Norwich, Otterville, Brownsville, Port Burwell and Verschoyle.
Shouts of ‘Red Cross, back to the table,’ punctuated a shared march along the sidewalk on the east side of Ridout between Broadway and Harvey.
Morgan continued that PSWs ‘work with their hearts,’ and feel taken advantage of, given in their view, remuneration does not reflect that commitment.
“I work for 25 years in this job, I start $3.50 – minimum wage – and now after 25 years, I’m very close to minimum wage,” said Rozalia Furmango, who described herself as ‘very upset.
“Because the prices go up, the food, the gas, the bills. I want to work here and have some benefits and some raises – we need a better living.”
PSW Linda Stanley cited issues beyond the rate of pay, stating she has worked her way ‘up’ to $15 an hour over time.
“But we only have part-time hours,” she said, noting that presented additional challenges to, for example, single mothers. “It’s hard for us to get by, even to pay the bills.”
SEIUH representative Matt Cathmoir, joining local membership on the picket line Thursday, said he had little to add, given the workers had expressed their concerns eloquently.
“The want to be helping their clients, but they need Red Cross to dig a little deeper and recognize the value PSWs bring to the health care and home care sectors.”
Tanya Elliott, Director, Communications for Red Cross Canada and RCCP, stated she could not provide contractual details at this time, but did emphasize the high level of respect the organization has for its PSWs.
“They are a critical part of the work we do.”
Elliott said a memorandum of settlement had been reached November 12 and recommended by both RCCP and the SEIUH.
“It was not ratified by the membership,” said Elliott, adding the SEIUH informed RCCP of its decision for strike action Wednesday, as of Monday.
It is ‘challenging’ to replace services provided by 4,500 PSWs provincially Elliott stated. Currently, in-place contingency plans for inclement weather and illness along with others are being ‘ramped up.’ Clients facing changes to their service will be contacted directly, Elliott added.
“Right now our focus is on our clients, their safety and well-being is our top priority.”
No additional negotiation meetings have been scheduled at this time, said Elliott, “but the lines of communication remain open with the union.”