Union in Alberta reaches deal that includes domestic violence leave

Local union secures first ever domestic violence leave for health-care workers
WATCH ABOVE: 160 long-term care workers in Fort Saskatchewan now have access to paid sick days while dealing with domestic violence. The leave allows workers to attend medical appointments or legal proceedings, without the fear of losing pay or their job.

A union in Alberta has negotiated domestic violence leave for members who work at a long-term care facility.

The United Steelworkers says the agreement means Rivercrest Care Centre workers who are victims of domestic violence can take paid leave for legal, medical and counselling appointments without fear of losing their jobs.

Ray White, president of Local 1-207, said the contract language is a first for the union in Alberta and it plans to table similar proposals with other employers.

“The stigma attached to domestic violence is bad enough without having to go to your employer hat in hand begging for time off,” he said.

“We have it on three other contract tables right now and, as they become available, we will be putting the proposal forward at every place we bargain.”

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White said the collective agreement, ratified on Jan. 18, 2017, was accepted by the majority of the 160 Rivercrest Care Centre workers.

The push was to get five new paid days on top of existing sick days. In the end, workers voted in favour of of accessing up to three days of their paid sick leave for domestic violence issues. Those days can be used for medical appointments, legal proceedings and any other necessary activities.

“It was a bit of a compromise,” White said. “We would have liked to have had the five days paid.”

White said making sure staff get the help they need was more important than a battle in contract negotiations.

Blair Halliday, chief operating officer of Qualicare Health Services Corp., said he was initially surprised when the union tabled the proposal for workers at the Fort Saskatchewan nursing home.

But after learning more about domestic violence, the company decided it was the right thing to do for the employees, who are mainly women.

Halliday said the benefits outweigh the cost, even in Alberta’s tough economy.

“We thought it was a reasonable thing to do,” Halliday said. “It is for the well-being of our staff.”

A photo of the Rivercrest Care Centre in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. Jan. 22, 2017.
A photo of the Rivercrest Care Centre in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. Jan. 22, 2017. Kendra Slugoski/ Global News

The union hopes that provincial governments will take action to ensure that all people can take time off to get the help they need, he said.

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Last year, Manitoba passed a law that allows workers who have been with the same employer for at least 90 days to take leave to seek medical attention for themselves or their children, to contact police or a lawyer or to move to a safe place.

READ MORE: Feds keeping an eye on leave for domestic violence victims in Manitoba, Ontario

The Alberta Federation of Labour has been urging Alberta’s NDP government to follow Manitoba’s example.

The federation’s Siobhan Vipond said it is great that unions are negotiating domestic violence leave for their members, but the government needs to ensure that all workers are protected.

“Unfortunately in our province there is a high ratio of domestic violence and it gets higher in tough economic times,” she said.

Alberta Labour Minister Christina Gray said the government will look at domestic violence leave as part of a review of the province’s labour laws, but she gave no indication when that may be.

“That includes looking for ways that we can help ensure Albertans facing domestic violence are supported, such as domestic violence leave,” she said in an email. “I will have more to say in the coming months.”

READ MORE: Domestic violence in Calgary highest since 2004: police

Watch below:┬áIn November 2016, David Boushy filed this report after Calgary police said they noticed a big spike in the number of domestic violence calls in Alberta’s largest city.

Domestic violence up 36% in Calgary
Domestic violence up 36% in Calgary

Ontario is considering a private member’s bill on domestic and sexual violence leave that was introduced last year by NDP women’s critic Peggy Sattler.

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Sattler said her bill is gaining support but there is no indication yet on how Ontario’s Liberal government will respond.

“It is terrific that unions are leading the way on this; however, the reality is that most employees in Canada are only covered by provincial employment standards legislation.”

In Alberta, the local United Steelworkers union has been inundated with calls from other unions across the province.

White said they want to look at the language.

“My guess is it’s going to be on bargaining table with all different unions.”

-With files from Kendra Slugoski.