Change in Ontario's long-term care sector is posing labour relations challenges and impacting the care provided residents. A steering committee of CLAC union representatives and employers in this sector organized a conference, held on May 11-12, 1999, for front-line supervisors and management stewards, which WRF reported on in the Summer 1999 issue of WRF Comment.
The conference focused on developing the skills and understandings needed to contribute to effective grievance resolution and identified many frustrations with the grievance resolution process. Many grievances do not address the underlying problems that cause incidents, and the process itself has negative side-effects.
The participants were taught, and practiced through various role-playing exercises, skills designed to identify the real issues in dispute and resolve them at the earliest stage possible. Through an attitude survey completed prior to the conference and again several months later, the effects of this conference on the participants was measured as it impacted on resident care, job satisfaction, perceptions of the union and management, view of the process itself, and results of grievances.
he attitudes in every one of these categories improved for both management and union participants. For the management representatives, significant improvements in the effects on resident care and on the results of the process were most evident.
For the union stewards, their views of how both union and management representatives did their jobs, as well as positive attitudes towards the process and results, were significantly improved. The conference not only improved their understanding of the process, but also improved the efficiency of the process itself towards positive outcomes.
This was confirmed by comparing data collected on the grievance resolution patterns of both the participating group and the control group before the conference and during a follow up several months later. While the number of grievances for both groups did not change during this time, the group attending the conference witnessed a dramatic drop in the number of cases that required outside assistance. The control group's numbers actually increased.
The results from both the attitude survey and the grievance data support the premise underlying this study: a cooperative labour relations environment improves morale and positively impacts resident care. Experience, the literature, and the feedback from participants confirms that building cooperative labour relations requires the front-line labour relations practitioners—management supervisors and union stewards—to be trained in the requisite skills to make it happen.
In dissecting the data gleaned from this study, several secondary theories can be advanced.
- As the problem-solving skills of supervisors and stewards increase, their reliance on third-party assistance decreases. Given the cost of arbitration, economic arguments can be advanced for greater investment in skills training. This is true without accounting for the expressed dislike on both sides for third-party solutions.
- The effect of this training was greater on the stewards than it was on management participants. Of particular note is the significant increase in appreciation for the role of management and union representatives. This may point to the need for more stewards education regarding the labour-management process.
- The data regarding grievance resolution after the conference, and the positive attitudes towards the labour-management process and results obtained from it, indicate that there is a correlation between attitudes and measurable outcomes. While no specific outcomes can be measured to test the positive attitudes toward improved resident care, it should be noted that this attitude is evident on the part of both labour and management participants.
The quantifiable results, combined with the positive anecdotal feedback received by both management and union representatives on the steering committee, leave the impression that more initiatives designed to improve the communication and problem-solving skills of workers and management in the long-term care sector, make both labour relations sense and offer promise for improved care for our residents.
The 1990s was a decade of significant change and turmoil in the long-term health-care sector. The labour relations parties have had to sort out many of the practical implications of cutbacks, restructuring, and other initiatives. By virtue of both doing their jobs, inevitable tensions and conflicts arise.
In turning the corner on a new decade, it is hoped that the parties can focus on more productive joint initiatives like the pilot project described in this report. By caring together, we can make our long-term care facilities a happier place to live and work.