Retired Health Care Attendant Recalls Struggles for Better Working Conditions
ST ALBERT, AB – When 21-year United Steelworker member Liz Beniot retired from the Youville Care Home here this spring, it marked over two decades of dedication and hard work in the health care field as a Personal Care Attendant.
At a retirement celebration here, her employer, fellow workers and the union honoured Sister Beniot and three other USW Local 1-207 members.
The newly retired Beniot says she is glad that she became involved in organizing a union in her workplace over 23 years ago.
“Today I am able to retire with a pension – something I never would have had if we didn’t decide to bring in the union,” she says. “It’s going to make a big difference in my life.”
An enhanced retirement package and pension have set Liz on a path to enjoy the years ahead.
Born in the Barbados, Liz immigrated to Canada in 1973 and had worked at a series of jobs for the next decade.
When she hired on at Youville in 1983, she was faced with meager wages, no benefits, “pitiful” wage increases, and an employer that did not properly pay overtime.
She recalls how a work colleague and her brought in their first union, the Alberta Union of Public Employees (AUPE), in 1987.
“We decided that we’d had enough and wanted to get a union at Youville, so we went for the same union they had at the General Hospital (now the Sturgeon Community Hospital),” she adds.
After two years as AUPE members, the workers at Youville decided to join United Steelworkers Local 5885, a then amalgamated local based in nearby Edmonton.
“We were not happy with the representation we were getting so we joined the Steelworkers instead,” she says.
In 1987 the workers were faced with the all-too-familiar issues of chronic understaffing and overwork.
“It’s been an uphill struggle over the years, even when we have the union,” recalls Liz. “But we would have never gotten our wages and working conditions improved without the union beside us.”
When Ralph Klein first took office in 1992, all public sector and publically funded workers were forced to take a 5 per cent wage rollback.
“We got that 5 per cent back, but we had to fight to get it,” she says.
In the early days, Person Care Attendants had to learn on the job.
“The union has played a big part in ensuring there is training and that wages and benefits have increased over the years,” says Liz.
To younger workers Liz offers some solid advice.
“I used to tell them to come to the union meetings and have your say,” she laughs. “Don’t just sit there and complain about things. Make sure you get involved.”
Local union officer and business agent Ray White says the USW will miss Sister Beniot.
“Liz was an early organizer and remained a solid union member for 23 years,” says White. “For many years she and others fought to make Youville a better place to work for all. And she made a large contribution to making that happen.”
“We all send Liz our warmest wishes for a long and happy retirement,” he adds.