Staff sign historic agreement

Members of the newly formed Gillis Lodge Employee Association and management of the The Dr. John Gillis Memorial Lodge in Belfast signed a new contract Friday, two years after the previous union was decertified. This is the first time in PEI’s history for a union to be replaced by an in-house, employee association of this kind. Back row from left are Roddie MacNeill, Douglas MacKenzie, Paul Trainor, Garry Ross and Cathie MacLean. Front: Donna Shipley, Kathy Wilson-Taylor and Jeffrey Haight. Sheila MacKenzie Photo

History was made Friday when a group of Dr John M Gillis Memorial Lodge staff and administrators exchanged hand shakes as a new contract was signed between the community care facility in Belfast and the newly formed Gillis Lodge Employee Association.

“What’s really significant is the fact it’s the first time in PEI history I’m aware of that a sitting union was decertified and in its place we put in place an inhouse association owned and operated by the employees,” said Paul Trainor, administrator for the new association.

“It bypasses the employer versus union stuff that goes on and I think what we’re going to see is more Island firms wanting that as an alternative. Who better to fix the problems than the people that work there.”

Since 2014, staff at Gillis Lodge had been without official representation after ousting the PEI Union of Public Sector Employees with whom a majority of workers were no longer happy. “UPSE was in place but it just didn’t work for whatever reason,” said Mr Trainor.

The staff of approximately 125 were left nervous, not knowing where they were going to land. The energy in the workplace during that time was described as very negative and a stressful time for everyone.

With help from Mr Trainor who works for the PEI Business Federation, the group was able to put together a comprehensive contract to which both sides were more than eager to commit.

Jeffrey Haight works as a chef at the facility and is the president of the new employee association.

Every department from administration to housekeeping is represented on the board ensuring policies are fair and encompassing of everyone’s needs with everyone on the board doing so in a volunteer capacity.

“It’s all about the residents here,” Mr Haight said “We’re working in their home and we respect them.”

Douglas MacKenzie, owner and administrator of Gillis Lodge looks forward to moving forward into the future.

“This agreement will provide assurance to the staff of stable working conditions and management that can carry out its duties accordingly,” he said. “I would like to commend the staff for their dedication.”

With the new association in place, staff grievances will be handled differently as elected board members will take their own departmental concerns to management in a more streamlined fashion.

“It keeps it much more civilized, professional, kind and balanced,” Mr Haight said.

The contract is a 45 page document that addresses the needs of every department.

Better wages, health and dental plan and a matched RRSP program are just some of the highlights but one of the biggest advantages to the in-house association is the major reduction in dues. Employees were paying about $500 a year but with the volunteer employee board representing them, staff will now pay $120 a year.

“They feel like they have this voice and they can say something and don’t have to hide in the corner,” said Mr Haight when asked if staff were on board with the new system. “They feel like they have support now.”

Mr Trainor hopes more small Island businesses will consider this unique alternative for their organizations.

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