Union asked to find more workers to help at Northwood

The province is reaching out to unions to find more workers to staff Northwood Care in Halifax as it copes with dozens of cases of COVID-19 and the death of three residents on Saturday morning.

Unifor, the union that represents workers at Northwood, said it and other unions want to work with the province to bring more staff into the facility.

“We’re all Nova Scotians — whether you’re in the union or you’re government, we’re all in this together trying to make it work, trying to get through this pandemic,” Linda MacNeil, Atlantic regional director of Unifor, told CBC News.

No one from the province was available for comment Saturday. Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer, will be providing an update at 3 p.m. AT on Sunday.

So far, seven people in Nova Scotia have died because of COVID-19. Five of those cases involved people who lived at long-term care homes.

‘Very stressful’ situation

Unifor has about 450 members at Northwood. MacNeil said most of the 33 staff who are off are members of Unifor and the reason they’re off is because they’re self-isolating due to exposure.

She said the situation has been “very stressful” for members, but they are caring people who care for the residents.

“We are doing everything we can as a union and unions across the province to try to ask members to volunteer to come to work at that facility, because we need to try to step up as Nova Scotians to try to get this under control,” MacNeil said.

MacNeil said housekeeping is an issue at Northwood, but said there’s an urgent and immediate need for continuing care assistants and LPNs.

Good neighbour policy

The unionized workers coming in to help would be coming in from one workplace to another.

In 2009, MacNeil said all unions signed a good neighbour policy with the province. This means someone from another union could offer to work at Northwood, but still maintain their union’s benefits.

MacNeil said the situation at Northwood didn’t become urgent until Saturday. She said the unions are talking about how to get the call out for work at Northwood to their members.

‘We don’t have a choice right now’

There is concern from the province about people from other facilities going back and forth if they choose to work at Northwood, MacNeil said. She anticipates workers would have to self-isolate between going back and forth.

“We don’t have a choice right now. We need other workers to come in and help this facility and help the residents there. But I would hope that upon leaving Northwood … they would be directed to self-isolate,” she said.

MacNeil said she hopes the province would offer additional compensation to people travelling from outside the Halifax region, but the details have yet to be worked out.

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