05/29/2017 20:06 EDT | Updated 06/01/2017 17:23 EDT

Seniors' home workers in Alberta fighting to get first agreement to lose jobs

COLD LAKE, Alta. — A company that operates long-term care homes for seniors in northeastern Alberta says it's firing current nursing care employees and going with a private contractor rather than trying to bargain a first contract with them.

Points West Living CEO Doug Mills said in a news release on Monday that the company will partner with Saint Elizabeth Health Care to provide clinical staffing at its facility in Cold Lake, Alta.

"Saint Elizabeth is a not-for-profit charitable organization which has a mission to spread hope and happiness and has been dedicated to the health of people and communities for more than 100 years," Mills said.

"Working in facilities across Canada, Saint Elizabeth care partners provide high-quality, compassionate, person and family-centred care reaching more than 19,000 individuals daily from all faiths, traditions, cultures and a variety of languages."

The Ontario-based company locked out 30 workers on Dec. 16. The workers in Cold Lake joined the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees in March 2015 and were trying to get their first collective agreement with the company.

AUPE president Guy Smith said the union has filed a complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board and applied for a cease-and-desist order to try to stop the cuts of licensed practical nurses and health aides.

Smith said Points West Living sent the union a letter about the terminations the day after the Alberta government introduced Bill 17, the Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act, in the legislature.

He said the bill has provisions to settle first collective agreements in newly unionized sites.

Workers were trying to address staff shortages, as well as get training and fair scheduling in their first contract, Smith said.

"They see the staff as part of their extended families and it really hurts our members when they say, 'I don't have time to spend with you, I have many more patients to look after.' It's really about the quality of care in an environment that should be very supportive of folks in there."

What's happening at the Cold Lake long-term care home is something that should concern all Albertans, Smith said.

"Members of the public have loved ones in these facilities, and they should care when they place one of their loved ones in these facilities that they get the level of care they deserve and that's not happening. It's something we should all care about especially as we all age and we ourselves could end up in some of these facilities."

In a letter sent to Alberta mayors and members of the legislature, Points West Living said staff were locked out after the company was given strike notice.

Mills said in the letter the decision allowed the company to secure skilled outside workers to ensure residents' safety and care would be maintained during the labour disruption, which came after 20 months of negotiation, mediation and "two attempts at reaching an agreement with the assistance of neutral and independent third parties."

He said the company rejects the union's allegations of shortcomings in training, staffing and scheduling.

Points West Living also operates long-term care homes in Grande Prairie, Lloydminster, Vegreville, Wainwright, Stettler, Peace River, Red Deer and Slave Lake.