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BLOG(Larson Heinonen): PSWs Demand Justice

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Some of the picketing PSWs in front of the Rainbow Centre in downtown Sudbury. (Photo by Larson Heinonen)
Some of the picketing PSWs in front of the Rainbow Centre in downtown Sudbury. (Photo by Larson Heinonen)
The striking PSWs are demanding better wages and greater appreciation from their employer for the work that they do.
The striking PSWs are demanding better wages and greater appreciation from their employer for the work that they do.

All workers hit the picket line at some point in their careers demanding more pay and better working conditions. PSWs (Personal Support Workers) are no exception. What makes PSWs different is that they truly are deserving of what they demand.

Because I live in an apartment building where many residents are seniors and disabled people, I have met many PSWs and fellow residents who talk of the PSW aiding them as a member of his/her family. Often a resident has very little contact with his/her biological family and filling this void falls on the PSW. Many seniors, unfortunately, see their family members only at major holidays, so it is easy to understand that a regular visit from a PSW is more than important.

A PSW administers medication, is responsible for the client’s personal hygienic needs, and does general cleaning. In addition to these duties that are in their job description, a PSW provides the client with something that is not one of their duties -- companionship and an understanding ear. Many professional counsellors readily admit that listening is one of more important skills demanded by their profession. PSWs come to your home and let you vent for a fraction of what it would cost if you went to a professional therapist.

Yesterday (Thursday) was a very chilly Sudbury winter day but almost fifty picketing PSWs were in front of the entrance to the Rainbow Centre. Before I could see them, I could hear the constant honks of support of cars going by and the loud cheers of the PSWs.

When I reached them, I had a chat with shop steward Louise Leeworthy. She told me about the several grievances of PSWs that hadn’t been addressed for years.

At the centre of this labour dispute is the low wages a PSW earns. The starting wage of a PSW is only $14.17 an hour and it can only raise to $ 15.02 an hour. Considering the kind of work a PSW does, this does seem low. Another point of disagreement with their employer, Red Cross Care Partners, is the paltry 34 cents per kilometre mileage allowance. Since PSWs do a lot of travelling, this issue is also something about which they do not see eye-to-eye with their employer.

Since the work PSWs do is so vital, Ms. Leeworthy feels they must be deemed an essential service. This is also something Red Cross Care Partners are hesitant to agree to.

Louise Leeworthy also pointed out that they want these issues settled soon so they can get back to doing what wanted them to become PSWs in the first place: caring and helping their senior and often disabled clients. I should point out that their clients are willing to go without care for now because it is important to them that the demands of their PSWs are met.

There are a couple of good reasons we all should want PSWs to prevail. We will all be old someday and in need of the services of a PSW. I, at least, would prefer my caretaker to be well taken care of by her employer. I am convinced that a worker performs better when she is content at what she does. I do not want someone in my home who is not competent and just goes through the motions.

Another good reason is the ability of this essential service to attract young people. If the demands of today’s PSWs are not met, the profession will not be able to attract new PSWs in the future. Not many young people will choose this profession if the wages are low and working conditions are poor.

I do not want to hear that one of my neighbours has suffered because their PSW was on the picket line and not taking care of him/her. I fear that if this strike goes on for long, I will learn that some senior citizen or a disabled person didn’t take their medication because their PSW wasn’t there to remind him or give it to him and got sick or worse as a consequence.

These PSWs provide an essential service and are needed back at work before something serious happens.

Larson Heinonen is a Sudbury-based artist, photographer, and writer. This piece originally appeared on his site, Larson's Gallery.



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The Sudbury working-group of The Media Co-op was formed to create independent media in the North, to speak to our issues and outlooks on our communities as well as the world around us. Independent media provides an avenue for people who are wishing to gain critical perspective on the issues that matter most to us, and to give a voice to those people and stories that you won't find in the mainstream media.

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