They have yet to close the gap, but talks continue in an effort to avert a strike in St. Thomas


city_scope_logo-cmykWhile talks continue, no settlement has been reached between OPSEU Local 152, representing 22 health care professionals and Closing the Gap in St. Thomas. Their contract expired on March 31 of last year.
And, those employees could be off the job in a week’s time.
Closing the Gap is a healthcare provider offering services in homes, schools, workplaces, long-term care homes, hospitals, and clinics across Ontario.
On May 2, a final offer from the employer was presented to OPSEU members who unanimously turned down the deal.
The outstanding issue remains wages, with Closing the Gap earning, on average, $165 per client visit while paying their employees $46 to $48 per visit, some of those lasting almost two hours.
In an earlier media release, OPSEU president Smokey Thomas set the tone, noting “The people and families of St. Thomas deserve the same high-quality health care provided to other communities across the province. But the owners of Closing the Gap are putting profits first. It’s not fair. It’s not right. And it must stop.”
Closing the Gap exterior jpgIn response, Closing the Gap president Leighton McDonald takes issue with the claim St. Thomas workers are not fairly compensated or respected.
“We saw the comment that was sent out by Mr. Thomas and obviously we don’t agree,” advised McDonald in a phone conversation with City Scope.
In a phone message left with this corner yesterday (June 15), Lynne Easter, staff representative at the OPSEU London Regional Office, confirmed the bargaining process continues, however “we are on a strike countdown. We will be in a legal strike position on Friday, June 22 at 12:01 a.m.”
Easter remains optimistic a deal can be reached prior to that deadline.
“We have mediation scheduled with the Ministry of Labour on June 21. We are still optimistic we will get a deal and avert a strike. But, at the same time, we are gearing up.”

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MOVING FORWARD

At Monday’s (June 11) council meeting, members were in receipt of a comprehensive report from Tim Welch Consulting out of Cambridge – which undertook the city’s 10-year housing and homelessness plan.
The document also delved into informal residential care facilities (RCF) like Walnut Manor, operated by Niagara Supportive Living out of Welland.
Walnut Manor - food services closed signjpg

The facility has been accused of serving up meals that are more appalling than appealing and of warehousing the city’s most vulnerable residents.
The housing report recommends the city craft a bylaw to license care facilities and beds not licensed by the province “To help protect the health and well-being of RCF tenants.”
Furthermore, “The City should explore the preferred structure of the licensing bylaw, such as separating the licensing standards from the city’s Standards of Care or having both in the same bylaw.”
Changes to existing city policy should include annual inspections “to ensure that the RCF meets all applicable building, fire, property and health codes and standards.
The city should also establish “a confidential complaints process/telephone line and create financial penalties for RCF owners who do not comply with the policies in the city’s licensing bylaw and associated Standards of Care.”
The city currently deals with 11 homes that would potentially answer to such a bylaw.
Elizabeth Sebestyen, director in the St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services Department, says her staff is ready to move forward.
“We will look at a licensing process which will now go forward and do whatever we need to do, whether that is updating the standards of care to include what they have recommended here or a new bylaw.”
Such a bylaw is treading on new ground, and Sebestyen concedes “I’m not sure procedurely how we are going to move forward, but we will work internally staff-wise and go forward with those recommendations and to council for approval.
“It’s going to take us a little while to go through that process,” stressed Sebestyen. “I think that will solve the problem we are dealing with now with one home in particular.”
With new fire sprinkler regulations slated to come into play next year, you have to wonder whether Walnut Manor will still be in operation when, and if, a new bylaw does take effect.

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ROAD TO THE FUTURE

While the City of London continues with its major rebuild of Wonderland Road south of Highway 402, you get a sense of what the rebuild will encompass if you travel north from St. Thomas to Harry White Drive.

Wonderland Road new jpg

Wonderland Road looking south from Harry White Drive.

No comparison as to what it looked like at the start of the year and cyclists will be thrilled at the wide shoulders, presumably to be identified as bike lanes.
The northern portion of the extension is slated for completion this fall and then beginning next year, Elgin county – which assumed responsibility for the roadway from Southwold township in November of 2016 – will begin improvements from the border with London south to Ron McNeil Line.
Last September, we spoke with Peter Dutchak, at the time Elgin county’s acting director of engineering services, who indicated Wonderland Road will continue as a two-lane thoroughfare.
“So in a couple of years, we anticipate even more volume of traffic heading our way so that’s why we planned our reconstruction to coordinate with that for 2019.”
Dutchak noted the traffic count on the south end of Wonderland is in the range of 2,800 vehicles per day, with the average for other Elgin county roads closer to 2,000 vehicles per day.
“We anticipate this becoming a major arterial road and Wellington Road has in excess of 10,000 cars a day. Will it turn into a Wellington Road in the future? Maybe.”
One of the wrinkles yet to be ironed out is the sharp curve at the extreme south end of Wonderland Road leading to the intersection with Ron McNeil Line.

Wonderland road stop signjpg

The current layout at Ron McNeil Line and Wonderland Road.

The initial plan calls for a T-intersection with the stop sign directed for traffic heading north and then east on Ron McNeil Line from Talbot Line.
“We want to keep cars (southbound on Wonderland) moving and direct them toward Wellington Road where we have a signalized intersection and that can support that volume of vehicles,” advised Dutchak.
That may be a temporary solution as the Ministry of Transportation has indicated it will cost-share an environmental assessment on the land north of Talbot Line to the Wonderland Road curve. The intent would be to re-route the roadway to connect directly with Talbot Line to the west of the current intersection with Ron McNeil Line.
The cost of the environmental assessment has yet to be determined and approval would have to come from the soon-to-be-installed Doug Ford Progressive Conservative government.

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MUNICIPAL ELECTION UPDATE

Only one name to add to the candidate’s list this week, bringing to seven the number of individuals who have filed nomination papers seeking one of eight councillor positions up for grabs on Oct. 22.

14 jt 03 clarkejpg

Coun. Gary Clarke

Coun. Gary Clarke is seeking re-election and he joins Mark Tinlin in a bid to serve a second term.
Loved Clarke’s quote at an all-candidates meeting in October, 2014, where he asserted ““There has to be rules and regulations around temp. (employment) agencies. They’re taking money from people and, to me, it’s a rip off.”
After his initial term on council, this corner felt Clarke would be a strong candidate for the mayor’s office.
Speaking of which, Coun. Steve Wookey remains the lone challenger in that race. But we are hearing plenty of rumblings about a former MP hovering on the sidelines. Will he take the plunge?
The final day to file nomination papers is July 27.

AND FINALLY . . .

A tip of the ink-stained fedora to the talented people behind the launch of The Echo, the biweekly local newspaper that hit the street June 5.
The EchojpgIts debut introduced a colourful publication loaded with news of relevance to its readers in Port Stanley, Sparta and Union.
Feature articles include a tribute to Bill Turvey, a founding member of the Elgin County Railway Museum, who died last month; and profiles on Port Stanley Festival Theatre and HOPE Hospice.
We know the inaugural issue is a dream come true for publisher/editor Melissa Schneider, graphic artist guru Jim McHarg and those who contributed material to ensure a high standard right out of the gate.
You have found a fertile market and your talent and enthusiasm will prove infectious.
You too can become the little paper that grew.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

Doug Fordjpg“Eliminating the carbon tax and cap-and-trade is the right thing to do and is a key component in our plan to bring your gas prices down by 10 cents per litre,” said Ford. “It also sends a clear message that things are now different. No longer will Ontario’s government answer to insiders, special interests and elites. Instead, we will now have a government for the people. Help is here.”

Premier-designate Doug Ford announced his cabinet’s first act following the swearing-in of his government will be to cancel Ontario’s current cap-and-trade scheme and challenge the federal government’s authority to impose a carbon tax on the residents of Ontario.

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