On the eve of annual meeting, Union coalition representing majority of Chartwell workers calls for ouster of board chair Mike Harris: The vote against Harris should be part of a broader reform in long-term care

19 May 2021 – A coalition of unions, representing a majority of Chartwell’s long-term care (LTC) staff, is calling on shareholders to vote against the company’s Chair of the Board Mike Harris at its annual meeting tomorrow. They hope the withhold vote against Harris will be part of a broader reckoning in the long-term care sector, which was particularly hard-hit by COVID-19 due to long-standing structural problems in the industry.

The unions — UNIFOR, UFCW, SEIU, United Steelworkers, and CUPE — point to Chartwell’s tragically high resident death rates from COVID-19, its implementation of bad practices such as housing multiple residents in one room, and nearly one hundred recent instances of non-compliance with health regulations as evidence of the company’s widespread failures during the pandemic. Staffing challenges and working conditions are often cited as one of the main causes of poor standards of care in LTC and retirement homes during and prior to the pandemic.

“Our members struggle daily within high-risk, high-workload, and low-paying jobs at Chartwell long-term care and retirement homes,” said Shawn Haggerty, President of UFCW Local 175.

“The board has given itself millions in bonuses, while maintaining a broken system of eldercare with under staffing, part-time and low wage jobs. If the board will not hold the company accountable, shareholders must. They can begin by voting to remove Mike Harris as Chairman of the Board.”

Inspectors from Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care gave notices of failure to meet requirements to 20 of Chartwell’s 23 LTC Ontario homes since the virus hit Canada, including occasions where the company allegedly failed to address abuse, prevent injuries, or contain the spread of COVID-19. At least 393 Chartwell residents have died from the virus.

Chartwell’s poor performance during the pandemic has exposed long-standing problems in the company’s operations and a breakdown in Chair Harris’s oversight. Shareholders should not reward his failure by allowing him to continue in this post,” said Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union—the international umbrella organization for private care sector unions. “The issues at Chartwell exemplify the need for raising the bar across the long-term care industry. We hope investors take a stand here for quality care and quality jobs.”

Last month, UNI coordinated funds with more than US$3.34 trillion in assets under management to engage with long-term care companies to elevate expectations for worker and resident conditions.

In Canada, the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE), representing the IBVM Foundation of Canada, is leading the investor effort to remove Harris as the board chair. The group has also filed a proposal asking for greater transparency on workforce practices (Unitholder Proposal No.1), which the union coalition is also supporting.

“The long-term care sector was hit hard during the pandemic, but Chartwell, in particular, is facing material reputational and legal risks due to its inadequate handling of COVID-19,” said Anthony Schein, SHARE’s Director of Shareholder Advocacy. “It’s clear that its operations lack the needed oversight on the board level, and shareholders should have a better understanding of the company’s approach to its workforce.”

In addition to SHARE’s proposal, the unions are asking investors to support a motion by Vancity Investment Management Ltd., on behalf of the IA Clarington Monthly Income SRI Class fund, asking the company to study a living wage for its employees. Often women and migrant workers, long-term care workers are among the worst paid workers in the formal economy. Instead of sustainable pay, Chartwell set up frontline care worker fund for its employees’ “urgent financial needs.” About 450 workers accessed this support in 2020.

Chartwell, an unincorporated, open-ended real estate trust, is Canada’s largest operator in the seniors living sector.

Based in Nyon, Switzerland, UNI Global Union represents 20 million skills and services workers in 150 countries—including 2 million in care.

UFCW Locals 175 & 633 represents more than 70,000 working people across all sectors of the Ontario economy including health care, retail grocery, pharmacy, meat processing, manufacturing, emergency services and more.

Media Inquiries:

UFCW Locals 175 & 633 – media@ufcw175.com

Matthew Painter, UNI Global Union