“Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Let your Heart feel light…”


It’s that time of the year again – Christmas Eve. Whether or not you celebrate the holiday, it’s difficult not to feel the warmth and generosity of humanity during this season. This is the time of year when people seem to be more jovial, they tend to smile more, open doors more, say ‘thank you’ more. This is the time of year when loved ones come together around a dining table, a tree, a fireplace, candlelight, or perhaps all curled up together in a bed.

An interesting, or rather poignant reality is that this is also the time when some people feel the loneliest. Those who don’t have loved ones to spend the holidays with, or who live far from their loved ones. Those who are bed-ridden, aged, or lack easy access to the outside world. These are often clients of PSWs.

Many of us have parents, grandparents, or sisters and brothers, who require the care from PSWs. We often take for granted that their physical needs are being met by these caregivers. However PSWs provide not just physical, but social, emotional and spiritual support. Clients look forward to visits from their Personal Support Workers, because those visits are more than just a quick chat and a wash. PSWs offer attention, supervision, consideration, respect. But most of all, PSWs provide warmth. They provide a human touch.

And that is why they are loved, in return, by their clients.

Throughout this campaign and strike, countless clients have articulated their strong support for their caregivers. Take, for example, Brad Bondar, who relies on the help of PSWs during his trips home for Christmas. Without their care, he is unable to make the trip home. However, faced with the inevitability of missing out on Christmas he still supports the strike. “I don’t blame them at all for striking. I don’t blame them at all,” said Bondar. “They have to fight for their own stuff. They work hard.” Read the original story here.

If there ever was a time to reunite PSWs with their clients, that time would be NOW. It’s certainly time to allow our Sisters and Brothers, who have been standing in the cold for nearly two long weeks, to return back to their loved ones – to their clients. Let’s hope for a 2014 where PSWs are respected and valued by their employer, but most of all, a 2014 where PSWs can continue to do the work that is ALWAYS valued by their clients.


In The Service of Others


By Sheal Mullin Berube

The sun has already gone down, it’s around 10 o’clock at night. I knock on the door knowing the family, my second family, will tell me again that I don’t have to knock.

I am greeted by familiar faces I’ve seen twice a week for the last four months. I can already tell it’s been a bad day for them and their dying loved one by the looks on their faces. They don’t have to say anything, they know they don’t.

I can read them and they know that too.

I first ask how they are feeling, I always ask them this first thing. His daughter’s lip trembles and a tear rolls down her face as she expresses how scared and helpless she feels. I reassure her she is not helpless, she is sacrificing so much for her father to be comfortable in his own home. I tell her that her feelings are real and valid.

His wife is weary and tired looking. She is nearing the end of her ability to cope but smiles softly anyway as she talks about old times and good memories. It’s the good memories that make my heart sing, watching how their faces change and their eyes light up when they remember him as he was then and not how he is now.

We small talk for a bit, it helps them cope. Then they head on to bed for the night. I walk up the small flight of stairs and check on him and that’s when I frown and sit by his bedside. Diligently and on high alert, I match his breathing, this isn’t good. Shallow and short means it’s not going to be a good night. I watch the short rise and fall of his chest, so thin and fragile now. I marvel at the fact that the girls have told me this used to be a man well over 250 pounds. He looks all of 100 pounds or less.

His eyes flutter and his breath sputters. I hold mine and wait patiently timing the seconds in between breaths. The smell is different in the room tonight, I recognize it right away. I know what it is. I have smelled that smell before with others I have been bedside with as they passed. It is the smell of impending death, it is coming and fast. Most people don’t think that death has a smell, but I know better and the families that I serve know better.

It is distinct, not harsh or strange. Somehow comforting in a way. I touch his hand, it is not quite cold but not warm either. His eyes flutter again and a small smile creeps across his face. I am humbled by this show of recognition and gently whisper that I am there and it’s okay.

As I sit there I feel like time has somehow stopped, been put in a loop of sorts. The unsteady rhythm of his breathing starts to slow down. The seconds turn to minutes between breaths. It is time, time to wake the girls and hold on tight for them. To weather the emotional cyclone that is about to hit this household tonight.

I softly knock on his daughter’s door. She whispers if it’s time yet as her eyes search mine. I nod softly, tell her I’ll go get her mom as she whisks by me to her father’s bedside. Her mother is already halfway out her bedroom door having heard our whispered exchange. I nod toward her as she searches my face for how bad it may become, questioning me how to handle this without words. My heart breaks, I do not have that answer for her.

She grabs my hand and squeezes it, still searching for some sort of answer to why. I reach up and wipe a tear from her face and gently lead her to his doorway while putting an arm around her. She leans her head on my shoulder and is quiet for a moment. Suddenly, as if she has found her answers, she moves into the room and sits by her husband’s bedside, taking up his hand to hold it.

The minutes are getting longer between breaths. His chest rattles and then settles. Time stops again as all three of us hold our own breaths, counting, waiting. His daughter begs to wait a little longer, just wait and see. His wife shakes her head and reaches across him to take her daughter’s hand. I whisper I can call the doctor for you and do they need anything from me right now.

She whispers thanks and I leave the room to give them privacy to grieve together. I call their doctor and tell him it’s time to come here, I believe he has passed now. Doctor tells me to tell the family he will be there very shortly. I go into the kitchen and get two glasses of water while looking out the kitchen window. I swallow hard, swallowing down the lump in my throat.

Pushing it down with the grief and sorrow. Biting my lip to keep from breaking under the emotional strain. I must be strong for them. I must not break or they will not have a stronghold to turn to. They were strong for him, now it is my turn to be strong for them on his behalf. I made a vow, a promise and I intend to keep it.

I take a deep breath, slowly blow it out and shake it off. I can cry later like I always do. Later, when the family is in their safe haven, when I know they don’t need me anymore. I grab the two glasses of water and head up to his room.

I grin as I am surprised by the smiles on their faces through the tears. I tell them what the doctor said and they thank me as I hand the glasses over. His daughter catches me off guard throwing her arms around me saying thank you for making his passing so peaceful and easier to handle while her mother nods in agreement.

I ask if they want me to stay and that I’ll stay as long as they want me to, even after the doctor comes and goes. We stand there huddled together at the foot of his bed in silence, time stood still, waiting and counting the seconds when time will move forward slowly again.

The dawn is breaking slowly on the horizon when time starts moving slowly again. The doctor has come and gone. The girls have dismissed me with warmth and thanks. I sit here behind the wheel of my car. I have kept my vow, I have stood true to my promise. I nod and take one last look at the house I have called my second home for four months, twice a week.

I look at the clock, it is 7 in the morning and it is getting brighter out as I slowly turn the corner at the end of their street. I am changed, inside. I am different. I have grown from their lessons of sacrifice and selflessness. I am better because of them and I am grateful for it. I whisper goodbye as their house leaves my rear view mirror. I will miss them but will never forget them.



I want all of you to know what Michael McCarter and the United Steelworkers 1-1000 did on Friday, December 20. The members of this amazing local made the unanimous decision to donate all of their Operation Christmas Cheer Christmas food hampers, grocery gift cards, turkeys and hams to the striking SEIU Healthcare Red Cross employees who are struggling to make ends meet in Pembroke.

Not only did they give these women all their gifts…but they ALL jumped into their cars and trucks and drove over to SEIU’s Pembroke picket line and helped deliver the gifts for the striking workers.  It was an amazing experience and I’m so happy I had the privilege to witness it.  The emotions were high. Tears were flowing from men and women!  Everyone was so very grateful for what they did.  Check out the pictures on Facebook.

It was wonderful to see this incredible act of kindness and compassion by the Steelworkers. It’s usually the people with the least who have the biggest hearts and give the most.

In Solidarity,

Casandra Robinson



I would never have survived this tragedy. [SEIU] kept me together: a psw story



Dear fellow brothers and sisters,

It is with a heavy heart that I write this to all of you. On our line there has been some chatter calling into question the strength and quality of our union. It broke my heart to hear this, so I would like to take a moment to share my story in hopes that I may put warmth in your hearts and perhaps share a different perspective to suggest otherwise.

On July 19, 2013, my 16 year old son Randy Brandt was home cooking dinner. When he was finished he began to smell something burning and when he went to investigate, he found the pot of oil he was cooking with was engulfed in flames. Panic-stricken for his family and house, he picked up the pot and took it outside. It was raining heavily that day and as you may know hot oil and water do not mix. The result was an explosion, and my backyard lit up like the first of July. Randy was severely burned. More than 30% of his body caught on fire. He spent two months in Sunnybrook Hospital’s burn unit, where his road to recovery was a long and a trying one. Randy’s skin will never be the same. He underwent multiple skin grafts and has to wear pressure garments everyday now until his skin is thick enough to sustain.

I was devastated by this tragic accident, and as a mother I could only wish that it was me in his place. During the time of his accident, I could not afford to take time off to be with my son. I am the sole provider for my family, so I had to stay working while my son and husband went to Toronto.

I was stressed, devastated, and all alone. The financial nightmare and burden of travelling to Toronto was a heavy one. My husband stayed at the Ronald McDonald House, a charitable organization that provides affordable housing for the families of sick children receiving care in Toronto hospitals, for $15/day for two months. Randy refused to eat the hospital food, so we had to buy special food to accommodate his diet. Then we needed transportation money to travel to and from hospital everyday because at 9:00 PM you were kicked out of the burn unit and sent home. We spent upwards of $1400 on pressure garments; medication costs ran us over $600, and countless other expenses incurred – all to be paid out of a PSW’s wage.

Then, one day, out of the darkness came a light. SEIU, your union, without being told by me came to help. They stood by me every day through a fundraising initiative to help us out. The local union rep at Sunnybrook came to visit my son a number of times and ensured that he got everything he needed at the bedside. Their help allowed me to be with my son in his time of need. If not for them, I would never have survived this tragedy. They kept me together. I am sure that someday, may you need the help; they will be there by your side, too. They stand with us now through this turmoil with the Red Cross and will continue to offer you warm smiles, a shoulder to cry on and moral support too.

SEIU came to me without fail. They are our family, a friend and here to help us all. Thank You

-Valerie Brandt, RCCP Quinte, PSW

Ongoing strike by Red Cross personal support workers symptom of bigger illness in homecare


By Sharleen Stewart, president, SEIU Healthcare

Santa visits picket line in Midland

Santa visits picket line in Midland

What’s the typical profile of a personal support worker? Usually, she’s a woman. She’s got family responsibilities—maybe she’s a mother, or maybe she’s taking care of her own elderly parent on her off hours.

In some areas, particularly the GTA, she may be a woman of colour, who immigrated anywhere from two years to two generations ago. Regardless of where she is from, in most cases she is picking up as many shifts as she can to try to keep up with the household bills.

Sometimes PSWs have come to the job as a second career, after working in social services, teaching, or security. Often, they have worked for the same employer for ten years or more.

Either way, they are typically making $15 per hour giving personal support care in the home, while paying for most of their own gas costs and time travelling between clients in their own vehicle.

And the clients? They are people who need assistance to live at home. Whether aging or living with a disability, needing care twice a day or twice a month, they receive medical, hygienic, physical, mental, and emotional care from PSWs with whom they form close personal bonds.

These are the people at the core of Ontario’s homecare sector. Homecare is the practical, affordable alternative to acute (hospital) or long-term care as our province’s senior population grows exponentially.

The Canadian Government recently decided to lower Ontario’s share of equalization payments. Ontario is only getting a 3.4% increase in health funding from the federal government in the upcoming year.

The gap between that number and what was promised last year is about $300 million: more than the province has pledged to spend on increased senior care, including homecare, in 2013-2014.

While the Government of Ontario adjusts to a new funding formula imposed by the federal government, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care must find more efficient ways to deliver quality healthcare.

One great solution to this problem? Smart investment in homecare. The vast majority of people prefer living in their own homes, rather than relocating to facilities that can never offer the same comfort or satisfaction for most homecare clients.

But the province needs to address some major issues related to the nature of this work. Homecare depends on human capital. Attracting, recruiting, and retaining personal support workers, both the backbone and heart of homecare, is key to the success of the homecare system.

The government needs to set province-wide compensation standards for the homecare workforce and create equity among respective workers in the acute care, long-term care, and community/homecare sectors to ease the transfer of care among sectors. Currently, PSWs in homecare earn significantly less than those working in the other sectors.

We need to ensure PSWs are making a decent living wage, with basics such as gas costs and travel time between clients’ homes taken into account. A PSW career needs to continue to be a viable option for the women and men who are so dedicated to this work.

Striking PSWs and their supporters are asking for help to resolve the Red Cross dispute involving over 4,500 homecare workers and get PSWs back to their families and clients for the holiday season.

The Ontario government has earmarked $700 million in additional funding to homecare over the next three years, including $260 million this fiscal year. Spending needs to be more transparent to make sure the province’s investment is used for frontline care and is not used to bloat the bottom-line profits of private sector agencies or the salaries and bonuses of the CEOs that run them.

Personal support workers take care of our elderly and vulnerable. Why aren’t we taking care of personal support workers?

A note of support from a well-wisher


Being out on the picket line often involves engaging in conversations with well-wisher’s. Last Friday was no different for those picketing in the Greater Toronto Area, who were approached by Peter Noonan. Mr. Noonan resolved to write to the Red Cross after hearing about their unfair employment practices. A few hours later he returned to the picket line with a copy of his email to the Canadian Red Cross, which can be read below.



“To whom it may concern,

The Canadian Red Cross is a valuable and cherished organization and provides support and assistance to those in need.

Your efforts in this regard are most praiseworthy and commendable.

It is therefore, with great dismay, that I learn of the extremely low pay and unreasonable expectations the Red Cross places on it’s most important front line workers- the Personal Support Workers.

The service they provide is exhausting work and physically demanding.

I know this for a fact because my wife is a PSW (not with the Red Cross) and a Red Cross employed PSW helps care for my aging Mother and provides home care assistance.

 My mother lives in a rural setting and her PSW travels great distances to and from not only my mother’s residence but to others under her care.

 These people deserve a decent and fair wage increase reflecting not only the cost of living but the demands of their job.

 In addition, the PSWs travel expenses must reflect the ever rising cost of gasoline and the wear and tear on their vehicles.

I hope that you find a way to compensate your PSW staff in a manner that reflects the extreme importance of their function and role within your organization as the current strike situation reflects very poorly on your organization and esteemed reputation.


In response to the letter, the Red Cross sent Mr. Noonan a defensive reply, stating that the PSWs had rejected an offer that was made to them, even though the Union had ‘recommended’ it.

In fact, this position held by the Red Cross, is one that they have articulated to their employees, the media, as well as the general public. The fact that SEIU Healthcare ‘recommended’ the settlement back in November seems to be the RCCP’s strongest (if only) defence.

However, let’s explore the conditions under which this contract had been offered. After 48 hours of bargaining, in the face of the Red Cross, who continuously offered pitiable increases, the Union accepted an offer. They accepted the offer because they felt that they were going nowhere, and they felt the RCCP was not willing to offer a better deal. With full knowledge that their members needed to earn a living, to work in order to make ends meet, to support their families, the Union accepted the offer. Knowing the dedication that these caregivers have for their clients, the Union recommended the offer to their members.

But it’s important to emphasize that recommending a contract is not the same as agreeing with a contract. It’s absurd to suggest that the Union agrees that their members should be paid poverty level wages.

And so, while the RCCP can defend itself by saying that the Union ‘recommended’ their offer, any suggestion that the Union wholeheartedly agreed to this agreement is false. The Union stands in solidarity with its members, and their decision to strike is one that was accepted by the Union.

We continue to stand on the picket lines, waiting for the RCCP to come back to the bargaining table. Instead of issuing tired excuses, such as the one receive by Mr. Noonan, they should be working towards reaching a reasonable agreement for the betterment of their clients and caregivers.

The real cost of Red Cross Care Partner’s silence


The fact is that Personal Support Workers love their clients. We have witnessed a mutual admiration among clients and PSWs. One client told us that he is seen by PSWs 7 days a week, and that his 3 PSWs come from the RCCP. He supports the strike action, and even refused care from temporary staff, because he believed in what ‘his girls’ were fighting for! Another client hurt his leg, but came to the picket lines in his mobility scooter just to tell his PSW to keep fighting for ‘what you deserve’.

These are only two glimpses into the many stories that we have been flooded with from clients as well as PSWs.

These are the human faces of this campaign and strike.

The fact is that for more than a week, we have stood in solidarity on the picket lines all over the province, often in sub-zero temperatures. And every day, the Red Cross has maintained silence. Instead of returning to the bargaining table, they have continued to watch their own employees suffer through their office windows. Like an arrogant older brother, they have ignored the cries from their sisters and brothers.

The Red Cross knows how much their employees love their clients, and how painful it is for them to be away. Yet, they continue to avoid engaging in reasonable conversation in order to resolve this strike.

We started the Justice4PSWs campaign to bring a voice to these important caregivers, and to raise awareness of the unfair practices of the Red Cross. Despite what may be reported, this strike is not primarily about dollar signs, but about recognition and justice. Recognition for the complex multiple roles that Personal Support Workers juggle on a daily basis, as well as raising awareness around the appalling employment practices of the Red Cross Care Partners – a profitable ‘social enterprise’ of the Canadian Red Cross Society .

Yes, those on strike are demanding a fair wage and better compensation for travel; but these asks are a basic result of recognizing the tremendous amount of work that PSWs do. Spreading awareness is the first step towards any future gains and justice.

As a result of this campaign, in just one week:
• Close to 1,000 people have written to their MPPs;
• This blog has been visited more than 11,000 times by people in ten countries – bringing international attention to the cause of PSWs;
• This strike has gained more than 500 media mentions and reports.

What’s more, we have been in conversations with local government officials, caregivers, the public, clients, and even Premier Wynne. So why is it that the Red Cross still refuses to come to the table and present a fair and reasonable offer?

Not only does the Red Cross continue to ignore us, they have actually tried to accuse the Union of harassment. Yet, it is the Red Cross Care Partners who continue to bombard their employees with letters and phone calls, insisting that if the PSWs don’t express a willingness to work, then they will not be given any hours and preying on the emotional ties that their employees have to their clients. Who is really practicing bullying behaviour? The one who stands from morning to night in solidarity with the PSWs, boosting their confidence, listening to their heartache, bringing their voice to the general public? Or is it the one who, like a coward, sends letters and phone calls to their employees, as opposed to meeting face to face with them?

We know that it is difficult for our Sisters and Brothers to stand in the cold because we have been standing with you. We know that it is frustrating for you to be away from your clients. But it is even more unacceptable that the Red Cross remains silent throughout all of this. Keeping PSWs away from their clients is the REAL COST of the silence.