Massive layoffs hit Sunridge

Sunridge Place workers were stunned on Monday when 264 of them, all members of the Hospital Employees Union, were told they will be out of a job by June 2. "I can confirm for you that Feb. 17 the vast majority of the workers at Sunridge received layoff notices," HEU communications officer Margi Blamey said Tuesday morning. "We don’t represent the nurses, but the vast majority of the people who do work there are HEU members. That includes 124 casual employees and about 140 regular full-time and part-time employees."

Sunridge Place has been sold, and employees have been told the new owner will be introduced next week. Employees were not told if the layoffs are related to the sale.

"This is something that B.C.’s ombudsperson was extremely concerned about and addressed in her February 2012 report entitled The Best of Care. She notes that large-scale staff replacement is very disruptive to residents because they lose the familiar and trusted caregivers who look after them on a daily basis," Blamey said. "This is huge."

The timing of the notification to the workers is part of a protocol that’s dictated under the Employment Standards Act.

Workers don’t know if they will be offered a chance to come back for lower wages, as has frequently occurred before.

"We do not know how this will play out," Blamey said. "This is all new to us, and we’re going to be looking at all of our options. The new owner operator will inherit the HEU as the bargaining agent. That doesn’t go away. So they haven’t lost their union. This is not a contracting out. This is a layoff that covers everyone else in the workplace."

The extensive list of workers includes licensed practical nurses, care aides, rehab assistants, activity workers, occasional therapist, dietitian, laundry, reception and assisted living staff.

"There’s a lot of people. And in a community like Duncan, folks will have been here before with the closure of Cowichan Lodge [in 2008]," Blamey said.

Sunridge had trouble with the Labour Relations Board in 2010, when it attempted to slash wages during contract talks.

Even then there was talk about the drastic effect that summary layoffs can have on morale, causing more turnover in staff.

"This type of large-scale staff replacement has a much bigger and more immediate effect on residents because they aren’t just losing a few people at a time as they find different jobs. They are losing everybody on that day," she said.

The upheaval in the lives of the residents as a result of the closure of Cowichan Lodge caused rage throughout the Valley.

"There’s documentation on the impact of this type of sudden and expansive change

on seniors," Blamey said. "And probably Duncan is the last place where we should have to talk about this because of Cowichan Lodge.

"Not only did people have their loved ones in that facility, they themselves were planning for the day when they might need to go into care and fully expected to go into Cowichan Lodge. That was because of the reputation of how people cared."

Many of the employees at Sunridge previously worked at Cowichan Lodge as well. "This is a lot of disruption," Blamey said. "When there’s a sale, new ownership can often bring in new procedures and things like that but to have a sale and a layoff come together like this is extraordinary."

Employees will do what they can to make the transition easy for residents, the union vowed.

"As long as it’s in [the workers’] control this will have minimal impact," Blamey said. "They really do park their own concerns at the door when they go in to work and turn their full focus on looking after the residents."

Neither Sunridge Place nor its ownership group had responded to calls by deadline.