Truro, Nova Scotia – Some might think that long-term care (LTC) workers – the heroes of the pandemic – would be respected these days in Nova Scotia.
For Tevin Crawford, a licensed practical nurse (LPN) who was recently terminated at Wynn Park Villa in Truro, this is far from the case.
Wynn Park Villa is a privately-owned nursing home. There are regular frustrations among the staff, including workplace health and safety, employee and resident confidentiality, scheduling, sick leave, vacation time, and favouritism.
Other workers like Crawford are now being punished for speaking up.
“If we were unionized, we wouldn’t be having this problem”
On February 17, after discussing a common concern, LTC workers at one of the care units sent a letter to Wynn Park Villa’s administrator, Sheila Peck. The nursing station, they explained, was insufficiently separated from residents, causing concern for both resident safety as well as patient confidentiality. The entire care unit signed the letter.
“We were worried that residents might use something like scissors in the area to hurt themselves, but bottom-line, it’s not an area that residents should be able to access,” says Crawford. “Important documents have gone missing in the past, but we were told that nothing could be done because of cost reasons and possible fire safety concerns.”
The next week, Peck came to the nursing station to dismiss the workers’ concerns in a group meeting. It was then that Crawford voiced his opinion, “If we were unionized, we wouldn’t be having this problem.”
Two days after making this statement, Crawford was informed that his services were no longer needed, despite the fact that every Nova Scotia LTC facility has a staffing crisis because of the pandemic. The official termination letter he was provided did not mention any cause or issue with his performance.
Crawford, by all accounts, is an ideal employee. In the two years he worked at Wynn Park Villa, he was never disciplined or even coached about concerns with his work performance. “I had a 99 percent attendance rate. I cared for my residents. I never missed my shifts. I had a great rapport with all members of management,” says Crawford. “I never felt like my job was at risk”.
Crawford was even featured in a ‘thank you’ video Wynn Park Villa put together for their staff in April 2020, highlighting his skill and commitment to providing quality care during COVID-19.
Since Crawford expressed his views about forming a union, he has heard that some of his co-workers have been intimidated on the issue as well. “I know it can be unsettling to have Ms. Peck pull you aside, but I want my co-workers to know that I haven’t been defeated,” says Crawford. “I’m only going to fight harder to help Wynn Park workers get the opportunity to make their own choice about unionizing.”
According to Crawford, anti-union attitudes among senior managers are nothing new at Wynn Park Villa. “There have been two previous union attempts that led to similar consequences,” says Crawford. “Some workers lost their jobs while the others were intimidated from going any further.”
Crawford feels the current culture within the facility is an obstacle to the improved workplace conditions he and his co-workers are seeking. “This is a family-run business. Many in management are related,” says Crawford. “This makes it hard to have concerns heard and to feel safe expressing them.”
Under both federal and provincial law, the right of an employee to join a union is guaranteed. It follows that employers are not permitted to engage in anti-union animus, which includes intimidating or retaliating against workers for joining or wanting to join a union.
Workers’ rights, union rights
Govind Rao, the Atlantic Region Organizer for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, is dismayed by what he describes as a blatant disregard for the constitutional rights of the workers at Wynn Park Villa.
“Here we have an employer firing a model employee for even saying the word ‘union’. I’m not sure anyone needs more proof that this facility is in urgent need of one,” says Rao. “However, the decision to join a union is not up to Shelia Peck, it’s not up to me, it’s a decision for every worker of Wynn Park to make on their own without interference or intimidation. Every worker in Nova Scotia has the right to sign a union card if that is what they decide to do.”
Rao noted that terminating a caring and qualified LPN does not accomplish anything to improve resident care and has instead likely aggravated any existing short-staffing and vacation approval issues at the facility.
“We know one thing for sure about high quality care in nursing homes. The quality of care for residents is related to good working conditions,” says Rao. “The smart move would be for Ms. Peck to show respect for Nova Scotia law and the remaining employees by addressing their concerns and returning Mr. Crawford to the work he loves and does so well.”
“If we stand together, they can’t fire all of us”
Nova Scotia long-term care workers have united to win incredible gains in their workplaces over the past two decades. Wages have been raised and standardized across the sector and workers have been able to win improvements like pensions, sick leave, better benefits, maternity leave top-ups, job security, long-term disability plans, and more.
Even though he was fired for mentioning the word ‘union’, Crawford still wants to improve the working conditions at Wynn Park Villa.
“It is clear that the best way my co-workers can win the protections and benefits we all deserve is by coming together and signing a union membership card with CUPE,” says Crawford. “If we stand together, they can’t fire all of us. Our voice will be stronger united.”
Support the union drive at Wynn Park
To learn more about the kinds of protections winnable through unionizing, or to sign a CUPE union card, workers at Wynn Park Villa are invited to reach out to Union4WynnPark@gmail.com
By Lisa Cameron