Firing worker for saying union out loud sparks union drive

Tavin Crawford

FIRING TAVIN CRAWFORD BACKFIRED. It was supposed to stop any talk of unions at Wynn Park Villa Ltd., a long-term care residence in Truro, Nova Scotia. It didn’t. Instead, the workers at the private operation got themselves a union certification vote.

Wynn Park management fired Tavin Februrary 26. They fired him for saying the “u word” (union) right out loud two days earlier, in a meeting with management. The letter of termination didn’t say that was why he was fired—but Tavin and all his co-workers knew that was why he was gone.

Open letter

The irony was the meeting was part of a management effort to smooth over worker concerns set out in an open letter: the workers felt that the nursing station was insecure, exposing residents to potential injury and threatening the security of patient files. The entire care unit had signed the letter.

Sheila Peck, Wynn Park’s administrator and co-owner, told them requested changes were not wise or possible—and would just cost too much. That’s when Tavin spoke up. He said:“If we were unionized, we wouldn’t be having this problem.”

“In my opinion, this was a clear case of anti-union animus,” says Danny Cavanaugh, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour.

‘Thank you’—you’re fired

In the two years Tavin worked at Wynn Park Villa, he was never disciplined or even coached about concerns with his work performance. He was even featured in a “thank you” video Wynn Park Villa put together for their staff in April 2020, highlighting his skill and commitment to providing quality care during COVID-19.

Tavin says anti-union attitudes among senior managers are nothing new at Wynn Park Villa. “There have been two previous union attempts that led to similar consequences. Some workers lost their jobs while the others were intimidated from going any further.

“This is a family-run private business. Many in management are related. This makes it hard to have concerns heard and to feel safe expressing them.”

Good reason to join a union

“Here we have an employer firing a model employee for even saying the word ‘union’. I’m not sure anyone needs more proof that this facility is in urgent need of one,” says Govind Rao, Atlantic region organizer for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

The workers themselves quickly came to the same conclusion. They contacted CUPE Local 5483 to do exactly what Wynn Park Villa did not want—namely, mount a full-scale union organizing drive.

Support was quick in coming and enthusiastic, despite predictable employer efforts to spread fear and disinformation. Supporters made a public display of their support on March 5 by joining in a car caravan that looped in front of Wynn Park Villa.

Certification vote held

CUPE soon had enough signed union cards to apply for, and receive, certification from the NS Labour Relations Board and so move the workers one step closer to unionization.

The Wynn Park Villa workers voted on whether or not to take the final step and join CUPE on March 26.

Rao notes: “The decision to join a union is not up to Shelia Peck, it’s not up to me, it’s a decision for every worker of Wynn Park to make on their own without interference or intimidation. Every worker in Nova Scotia has the right to sign a union card if that is what they decide to do.”

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