CUPE, Wood Buffalo Housing at odds over raises for Rotary House staff

WBH says staff are paid fairly and more than other Alberta facilities. CUPE says staff are struggling to keep up with local living costs.

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The union representing Rotary House Lodge staff has accused the leadership of Wood Buffalo Housing (WBH) of quitting bargaining talks after denying requests for salary increases. WBH’s president and CEO denies walking away from negotiations and insists staff are already fairly compensated.

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A statement from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1505 says staff want a four per cent raise during the next two years. WBH countered with no raises and a three-year deal. CUPE 1505’s leadership says WBH wants concessions that include a 79 per cent cut in paid sick leave. A rally is being planned outside Rotary House for June 20 at 12:30 p.m.

“The Rotary House Bargaining Unit has not seen an increase in wages since 2017 and their current wage structure does not reflect the increased cost of living in the region, nor does it assist in reducing the impacts of raising inflation,” reads a Wednesday statement from CUPE 1505.

This is an employer who assumes that because staff are professionally dedicated and emotionally attached to the seniors they serve, they will continue operations while their financial wellbeing collapses.”

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WBH says staff fairly compensated

WBH CEO and president Patricia Scantlebury-MacInnis said in a Thursday evening interview staff are paid 20 to 30 per cent higher than staff at similar Alberta facilities. Staff also get an annual northern living allowance of $12,480. The collective bargaining agreement shows wages start at $29.34 per hour, or $35.34 per hour when the northern living allowance is included.

“Our negotiation team has been very fair. They have listened to the union and in terms of what they’re looking for, and I think those discussions have reached an impasse,” said Scantlebury-MacInni. “CUPE and the employer left the table with the understanding that CUPE wanted to take time to review our last proposal. So Wood Buffalo Housing did not abandon the bargaining table.”

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WBH is a non-profit and arms-length corporation of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB). Staff are paid through rental and service fees from tenants, and municipal property taxes. Scantlebury-MacInnis said WBH does not have the money to offer raises.

“That money must come from somewhere, which in this case would be either through an increase in rent for our seniors, or property owners throughout the region through their annual property taxes,” said Scantlebury-MacInnis.

“When we can see how much people in this community are struggling already, we cannot reasonably consider giving increases when they are already very fairly compensated for the work they provide.”

cupe 1505
A woman holds a CUPE 1505 flag during a ceremony on the National Day of Mourning at J. Howard Pew Park in Waterways on April 28, 2019. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

CUPE blasts councillors’ vote for full-time status

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Rotary House is an independent living home for seniors in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo. The downtown facility has 39 units and is staffed 24/7. Meals, light housekeeping and recreation are provided. The home is not a long-term care centre and does not have permanent medical staff. Alberta Health Services (AHS) offers home care to residents.

CUPE 1505 criticized RMWB councillors for voting themselves a promotion to full-time status in a surprise Tuesday motion. No raises were mentioned in the motion, but Councillor Kendrick Cardinal, who proposed the motion, said raises will come soon.

WBH has a governance board with members picked by the RMWB. The municipality does not hire the organization’s CEO or president.

The only councillor on WBH’s board is Allan Grandison, who was the loudest critic of Cardinal’s motion. However, CUPE 1505 is furious councillors will get raises after skipping public input.

Undoubtedly the wage increase we’re asking for workers will be significantly less than the raises Council just gave themselves,” said CUPE 1505’s statement.

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