It’s fundamental to take care of these people day in and day out

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“I work in the private sector as a cook at a residential care facility in the Okanagan.

In a typical day, I cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for 140 residents. We have roughly 34 assisted living residents, who eat directly out of the dining room or kitchen, and then we have another 60 residents in complex long-term care and another 40 residents in dementia cottages. We also have an adult day program that serves up to 20 residents per day. So, typically, we have two cooks on shift during the week. 

I’ve been cooking since I was 16 years old, started off as a dishwasher. I worked in restaurants for years and years. And then, I ended up being a kitchen manager where I met some people who worked at a private retirement residence. I got a job there and gained experience doing batch cooking. Then, I decided I wanted to continue with health care.

I’ve been an HEU member for seven years, and an activist for about one year.

Before the pandemic, there wasn’t wage-levelling. I was making $16.50 an hour, which is really just above minimum wage, and I was working three jobs. And then I got sick, and my family got sick. No one knows back then if it was COVID or not because they weren’t testing. 

Compared to some people’s COVID stories, mine wasn’t quite so bad. But it was probably the worst sickness I have ever personally dealt with. I took about five months off work and experienced this build up of anxiety that I’ve never had before. I returned to work and there were some issues that I was dealing with. It was a struggle for my mental health at that point in moving forward just to survive. 

Some of those experiences led me to get active in the union.

In health care, nurses take care of people who are sick, and care aides take care of their everyday needs. As a cook, I’m the one who makes sure they eat. If they don’t eat, nobody’s going to live without food in their body. So, it’s a fundamental thing to make sure that you’re able to do that job and take care of these people day in and day out.”

- Alex, Cook, part of the health care team