Regent Park healthcare workers call for support

By Daryl Gonsalves –

 Having commemorated its 50th anniversary last year, the Regent Park Community Health Centre stands as a symbol of service in the community. However, be­neath the surface of celebration lies a pressing issue: the ongo­ing struggle of the centre’s dedi­cated frontline staff for fair wag­es. They are calling for support from their clients, partners and community.

Community health centres aim at reducing barriers and address­ing the social determinants of health for priority populations. These organizations are critical in mitigating Ontario’s systemic healthcare bottlenecks as they deliver primary care with a goal of health promotion and disease prevention.

Frontline staff are the lifeblood of the Regent Park Community Health Centre and can be credit­ed for bettering healthcare in the surrounding community. The centre provides critical services including life-saving programs in response to the opioid over­dose epidemic, harm reduction, low-barrier support for addic­tions and homelessness, primary health care, mental health care, diabetes education and nutrition services, supports for children, youth and families, and other important services – all under one roof.

Speaking with frontline staff at the Regent Park Community Health Centre, it was evident that morale has plummeted. Despite soaring inflation, Local 5115 of the Ontario Public Ser­vice Employees Union, which represents the frontline workers, says management is offering only meager wage raises that equate to cuts when adjusted for inflation. The staff turnover rate was 22 per cent in 2022 and 15 per cent in 2023.

High turnover means clients can lose a relied-on member of their care team which can lead to devastating impacts to their health and well being. It’s also an additional administrative cost as the Regent Park Community Health Centre must draw from a tight labour market.

The cumulative impact means that the continuity and quality of care are at risk. By improv­ing wages and benefits, there is potential to also reduce the high turnover rates. In June 2023, the Arbitrator’s commentary, after the Province’s wage-restraint law was found unconstitutional, noted that “Wage increases can reasonably be expected to keep people in the workforce, attract people who have left to return, and incentivize future employ­ees”.

After years of struggling for fair compensation, benefits and fair working conditions, the frontline workers at the Regent Park Community Health Cen­tre are asking for a 4% wage increase and improvements to their benefits to ensure the con­tinued delivery of the special­ized services that they provide.

To add insult, Local 5115 says, the centre’s board of di­rectors approved superior im­provements in the past to the Executive Director’s salary and working conditions. Ontario’s publicly available Sunshine List shows a 6.2 per cent salary in­crease in the 2022 fiscal year. In addition, management has continued the hardline 30-year stance of no improvement to the staff benefits, according to the union.

The Board of Directors and Executive Director of the Regent Park Community Health Centre have not responded to emails. On February 26, OPSEU Lo­cal 5115 offered a concession to hopefully land a deal and avert a strike however the union in­dicated that the management team responded by refusing to improve their offer to frontline staff. In response, the union rep­resenting frontline workers indi­cated they will use all available tools in the bargaining process, including labour action.

Union Local 5115 encourag­es readers to submit comments to the Regent Park Commu­nity Health Centre. You can email the Executive Director at: [email protected].

There will be a public rally of support in front of the main Regent Park Community Health Centre (465 Dundas East) on Tuesday, March 19 at 12pm.