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Residential care worker gives his all to clients <u>and</u> union

The Report: July / August 1998 vol.19 num.1

by DAN KEETON

Raj Dhillon is what you might call the quintessential trade unionactivist, taking a leading role in two of the three unions in which he holds memberships.

As an HSA member, Raj cares for people with severe mental and physicalhandicaps at Archway, a group home run by Peace Arch Community Services (PACS). Since thehome certified with HSA in March last year, Raj has been up to his neck in union duties.

Hes a Chief Steward and sits on the bargaining committee, and wasa delegate to this years convention and Stewards Workshops. Dhillon also holdspositions in Local 3999 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Its a tight balancing act, between the union duties, politicalactivities and his family, but he manages. "Sometimes I feel burned out, so I stopall political work and just concentrate on things like filing grievances. Ive beentold by my union buddies that I usually take two to three weeks to recuperate, thenIm back."

Dhillons four clients at Archway are all from the formerWoodlands institute. He and the other residential care workers provide full personal andmedical care.

"Its a very complicated job. All [the clients] arenon-verbal so they cant explain things. Its up to our own judgement."

Although theyre not nurses, the residential care workersadminister medication in doctor-prescribed blister packs and function as the front-linecommunicators for their clients.

"The expectation of the agency and the government is that weshould know everything about those individuals and make the right decisions. Iftheyre not feeling well, why not? If theyre not eating, why not?"

Dhillons job used to be covered by four separate classifications,including janitor, cook and nurse. "Now we are doing all those jobs in one. Yet thereare many non-union group homes where caregivers are paid only $9-$10 an hour."

There are 15 Archway workers. When they unionized, "the employerwas not happy," Dhillon relates. "He [the director] was saying he couldterminate the contract [with the government] on six months notice." Hedidnt, however, and the workers went on to resolve outstanding grievances, winningtwo arbitrations over seniority disputes.

Dhillon also works for the Richmond Society for Community Living andbelongs to the social services local of CUPE where hes regional vice-president and abargaining rep. Additionally, he works relief shifts at another group home covered by theBC Government and Service Employees Union.

Is it strange belonging to several unions? "Not really. With HSAand CUPE, I feel I have access to two labour relations officers instead of just one,"Dhillon says.

Dhillon likes HSAs structure, while noting that itsdifferent strokes for different folks. CUPEs system is very different fromHSAs, the result of different historical development.

Dhillon is the son of a farmer and was a political science student inhis native state of Punjab in India. After immigrating to Canada in the early seventies hebecame a woodworker and a member of the IWA for the next decade. When the mill closed heoperated a couple of businesses.

He became a caregiver after taking an aptitude test through thegovernment employment agency and later volunteered at various community agencies dealingwith drug and alcohol problems.

"Since I had been in business a few years, my orientation wastowards being management," Dhillon acknowledges. But after attending a union meetingto which few members came, he became a shop steward and union activist.

Despite a schedule many would find punishing, Dhillon says itsall worth it. "If Im able to save someones job, Im saving the wholefamilys income, and that keeps me going."

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