Artspace, SAIL and AUPE

There has been a great deal of confusion in regards to the labour dispute between AUPE and SAIL, and how it relates to our home, the Artspace Housing Co-op.  Part of this confusion is the result of AUPE's deliberate attempts to redefine our home as a care facility, or trying to claim that, as co-op members, we are also SAIL owners, to justify their picketing of our private homes instead of asking permission to picket on the private property in front of the SAIL office, located in one of the units of Artspace.

Co-operative housing is not uncommon, though many have never heard of it.  It falls into a sometimes difficult to explain grey area between home ownership and renting.  Canada has over 2,000 co-ops, with over 30 in the Greater Edmonton area.

Every one of these co-ops is an independent organisation, with its own in-house rules regarding maintenance, pets, improvements, etc.  They can be apartments, townhouses, single dwelling houses, duplexes, triplexes, four-plexes - basically, any type of accommodation.  Likewise, there can be any combination of amenities, accessibility, and so on.

The day-to-day running of each co-op is the responsibility of membership.  There is a board, plus various committees, made up of co-op members,  and it is all done democratically.  One unit, one vote.

To become a member of a co-op, one has to send in a membership application.  Waiting lists can be anywhere from a few months to years long.  Accessible units, if there are any, tend to have much longer waiting lists than regular units.  Potential members in Alberta must attend a NACHA information session, and applicants need to undergo a credit check.

When a unit becomes available, potential members are interviewed, typically by individuals on the membership committee and the corresponding member of the board.  They then give their recommendation to the Board, which votes on whether or not to accept their recommendation.

For their part, applicants must agree to be a full, contributing member of the co-op community, abide by the by-laws and regulations, and whatever else is required to be a "member of good standing."  So long as members abide by the membership agreement and the by-laws, and pay their housing charges on time, their right to live in their home is protected.  It takes quite a lot for someone to have their membership revoked, though it does happen.

Which is why co-ops are best described as intentional communities.

Where the confusion seems to centre around is, who owns the co-op?

When someone is accepted for membership, they have to buy shares.  All members own the same number of shares/unit.  This is not like buying shares on the market, but is more akin to paying a damage deposit on a rental, except it's not attached to our units, but to the co-op itself.  If we move out, we get it back, but we cannot buy and sell them as one would on the stock market.

Individually, we pay housing charges which are somewhat like paying rent.  The housing charges are set by members to cover the costs of the co-op.

Including the mortgage, if there is one.

Which is where things get even more complicated.

Membership is responsible for setting housing charges, which must cover the costs of running the co-op, but cannot generate profits (though some provinces do allow for-profit co-ops).  Membership has to vote to approve the budget each year.

But we don't actually have much control over the budget.

Because we have a mortgage.

That means that Artspace is technically owned by the CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation).  As long as we have a mortgage, it is CMHC that tells us our housing charges must be within a certain percentage of the housing market.  It is CMHC that controls, to a great extent, our budget.  These cannot be discussed here because by-laws do not allow for such things to be discussed publicly.  Suffice to say, there are a lot of rules and regulations that we must follow if we are to maintain our status as a co-op.

Our boards have been doing a good job of it over the years, as Artspace has been held as an example for all of Canada, as a well run and maintained co-op.  This could only be done through the dedication and integrity of our board members over the years.

So while Artspace members all "own" shares of the co-op, as long as we have a mortgage, it is CMHC that is in primary control.

Then there is SAIL.

SAIL Inc is a subsidiary of Artspace Housing Co-op.  There are only three such models of in-home care in Edmonton, including SAIL.

As a subsidiary, Artspace Inc. owns SAIL Inc - but Artspace members do not.  This is where AUPE has tried to muddy the waters by claiming that, as members of Artspace, that makes us also owners of SAIL.  This is false.

SAIL is administered by a volunteer board, under the auspices of Alberta Health (AHS).  They are the intermediary between SAIL users and AHS.

The concept is a win-win-win situation.

It's a win for user members; through SAIL, they have a say in who comes into their home and how their care is provided.  More importantly, because SAIL is in-house, not only do they get the scheduled care they need, but can also get unscheduled help that is impossible for AHS to provide in the usual home care model, where care workers travel from location to location.  User members get to live in their own private homes, rather than institutions, get the scheduled care they need, and have the ability to get other assistance on-call.

It's a win for SAIL employees.  They provide scheduled care for user members on location; no driving from place to place.  In between scheduled care, they have down-time, where they are available for on-call assistance.  In essence, SAIL employees are getting full time wages for part time work.  Considering the importance of on-call availability, this down time availability is essential to the in-home care model.

Update: Oct. 3.  Just to clarify; not all of SAIL's employees are full time.  Only a few are - less than 1/3rd of the staff.  The rest are part time or casual.  In a typical 8 hour shift, day staff would have 4-5 hours of scheduled care hours.  A night shift would have 1-2 hours of scheduled care hours.  For hours without scheduled care, the staff stay in the office and are available for on-call services.  Total number of staff depends on number of  AHS assessed care hours user members require, and ranges anywhere from 15 to 29 care staff in total.

It's a win for AHS.  SAIL has been around fro 24 years.  Over this time, AHS has found that user members fare much better living independently than those in institutions.  They require fewer medications and lower doses.  They have fewer hospitalisations.  Their overall outcomes are simply better than any other model.  Ultimately, this saves AHS - and taxpayers - money.

This means that the SAIL model is one that has great potential for expansion; more people who need home care can continue to live independently, home care providers are better able to care for individuals when they don't have to rush from location to location, and AHS has a model that costs less than institutionalised care, with better health outcomes for users, which also ultimately saves taxpayer dollars.

This also makes it a huge potential market for AUPE.

They want in on the in-home care market because it has the potential to make them millions.

Unfortunately, it would kill everything good about it.

SAIL and other in-home care companies would lose because AUPE is demanding home care workers be paid as much as those in care facilities and hospitals.  As much as we appreciate the importance of the work they do, these are positions that require only a few months training.  They are not nurses with university degrees and a decade of training and educational courses behind them.  They are not constantly on the run for their entire shift.  SAIL has an LPN to provide the care the workers aren't allowed to do.  AUPE claims equal pay for equal work, but they are not comparing to equal work at all.

 SAIL is funded based on AHS assessment of user member care hours.  There's only so much money available to cover the costs of administration as well as staff (the board itself is volunteers, so they get no pay at all).  They need a certain number of care workers to provide for those hours.  They can't afford to pay what AUPE is demanding and remain solvent.  The excessive demands would bankrupt them, and SAIL's employees would all lose their jobs.  The care staff knew this when they chose to go on strike, which means they knew from the start that their actions would very likely lead to SAIL going under, and their own job losses.  How AUPE managed to convince them to go on strike anyhow is curious, indeed.  They certainly aren't doing it for the care staff.  Especially since some of their proposals would have left the care workers being paid even less than before, which the SAIL board refused to do.

User members lose because one of the essential components of the SAIL model is being able to have a say in who comes into their homes to provide care.  Once AUPE is in control of the in-home care model, they essentially gain control over individual care through the staff that provides it.

If SAIL goes under, user members either have to accept whomever AHS sends, or the contract gets awarded to a private for-profit company, and they control whomever goes into a user member's home.  User members also lose a lot of control over their own care.  This will result in higher stress levels, which leads to increased need for medication, especially pain killers, relapses, increased hospitalisations and even being forced to live in an institution.

AHS - and the taxpayer - loses because this inability to maintain their independence will result in increased care needs and increased costs.

The end result would be fewer care models like SAIL's, fewer people able to live independently, and more pain and suffering among individuals who need home care.

As for AUPE, they get lots more money, while people lose their jobs, individuals lose control over their own health care, and the whole thing costs taxpayers more.

The only one who "wins" in this situation is AUPE.