Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Staff in Red Deer Group Home For Disabled Albertans Goes Union Seeking a Livable Wage - in Alberta of all Places

I see 400 residential staff working in 40 group homes in Red Der has decided to join AUPE to try an get a liveable wage and benefits for their labours. This is one of the natural consequences of putting people who care for our most vulnerable citizens in penury. I can understand the frustration that leads to this kind of action.

As a Progressive Conservative I can't understand why government has not addressed this issue more effectively. The absurdity of this situation is that GOA will be paying these "union wages" anyway if these not-for-profit community based agencies fold because the problems of the developmentally disabled in Alberta will not go away. They will just become a primary function of government and will be handled inside government. Not an optimal solution and ther are no cost savings that way either.

There are other alternatives are for the community based not-for profits who do this work on behalf of Albertans through our government. One is to close up shop and let the government take on the entire task of caring for developmentally disabled Albertans. The other is to pay staff what they deserve and cut back programs to meet the budget limits imposed by the poor funding models imposed by the government.

The better alternative is to increase the grants with some flexibility so the community based not-for-profit can pay their staff at the same level as government employees who are doing the same work. The current discrepancies are breathtaking.

A recent consultant report on compensation comparisons by the HayGroup indicates just to equalize current staff, not the recruit to vacancies or pay same benefits would require an injection of $182,000,000 of new funds.

Last year the GOA put in $36m of new money in three different tranches. The February Budget added $10.5M to base but some agencies have not yet sween those funds trickle through the system (such as it is) to the copmmunity agencies so they can pay it to staff. It has been a year for cripes sakes! Another $10.5 m was added mid year and more recently ther was $15m added. These are small band aids and put out as one time “bonuses” that only adds to the uncertainty and frustration of staff. There needs to be systemic change here not a bunch of patch jobs.

The agency staffs that are still on the job throughout Alberta are spread too thin due to staff shortages and vacancies where no recruits are coming to fill. There are annual staff turnover rates in the 45-65% range all over the province. That is a set of circumstances when mistakes happen. These employment conditions are a breeding ground for errors and omissions. Government policy makers and officials have to be actively concerned that there is a real and present danger of serious risk to both clients and staff. This simply cannot be allowed to continue in a civilized society and not one as “wealthy” as Alberta.

Full disclosure, I have been working with the Alberta Council of Disability Services for a while now on their relationship with the Alberta government and now on wages and contract issues. This is not just another project for me. This is now a personal calling for me because of how ridiculous the current state of affairs has become and how grossly unfair it is to staff and clients.

Read the ACDS policy briefing to government for some context. Then read the HayGroup backgrounder for a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Then contact all the candidates from every political party running in your constituency. Let them know, as a citizen who cares for the most vulnerable in our society, that you want this situation rectified immediately.

The problem is well known and the solution is obvious. It takes political will to fix it. It is election time. I can assure you they will listen. If enough people make the point and connect directly with the candidates, I can assure changes will happen.