Unions should not thoughtlessly protect bad employees

Photo of Elizabeth Wettlaufer via Facebook

Photo of Elizabeth Wettlaufer via Facebook

When a serial killer can thrive off the system, you know there’s something wrong

By Katie Czenczek, Staff Writer


Unions are great; they’re how we have eight-hour workdays, ensured long-term employment, and protection for employees from being discriminated against based on race, sexuality, religion, and gender. However, one union in particular also managed to allow a nurse to get away with murder.

What sounds like the plot to a crime show became reality when Elizabeth Wettlaufer killed eight nursing home patients in her care over two decades in Ontario. Wettlaufer targeted the elderly by injecting them with insulin; she attempted to harm or kill several other patients before turning herself in.

After launching a public inquiry into the murders, it was found that Wettlaufer had a string of questionable behaviours that led to her being fired from multiple nursing homes—only for the Ontario Nurses Association to intervene. They defended Wettlaufer twice, once altering her firing to a voluntary resignation after she was caught stealing and overdosing on medications in 1995, and a second time at Caressant Care in Woodstock, Ontario, where she was reprimanded numerous times for medical errors and incompetence.

It was at Caressant Care where seven out of the eight victims were murdered, and Wettlaufer again received a voluntary resignation from her position, along with $2000 and a letter of recommendation as part of the union settlement in 2014. This allowed her to claim one more victim as she began working at Meadow Park Long Term Care in London, Ontario.

Murders aside, someone should have been alarmed by how many cases of misusing drugs Wettlaufer had on her file before she decided to turn herself in. She was regularly caught stealing narcotics and giving the wrong dosages to patients. Even if she wasn’t doing it deliberately, she should have been fired for endangering her patients.

Unionization is not responsible for Wettlaufer’s actions. She probably would have found other vulnerable people to target without multiple nursing jobs. The Ontario Nurses Association, however, needs to take accountability for overlooking clear warning signs, and for not investigating why every nursing home Wettlaufer worked for wanted her gone. Unions are supposed to hold both employers and employees liable. At times, I think that the latter is heavily prioritized, which allows employees to get away with bullshit like this.

The nursing home murderer from Ontario acts as a grim reminder of the costs of bad employees being protected by their union. It’s aggravating that the Ontario Nurses Association did not take an in-depth look at Wettlaufer’s file before granting her a voluntary resignation on two separate occasions. What is most upsetting about this case is that the Ontario Coroner’s office was contacted twice about Wettlaufer, meaning that there were people who questioned her actions that the union or Caressant Care could have spoken with.

Yes, this case may be an extreme example, and it is in no way representative of all unions. However, if you’ve ever worked at a union job, then you’ll know that it is almost impossible to be fired, even when someone really should be. I don’t think that it’s time to ditch unions altogether—they’re important for standing up for worker’s rights—but there does need to be a shift in how much investigating goes into employee termination. That way, tragedies like the Wettlaufer case can be stopped before someone makes it to victim number eight ever again.


The Other Press

The Other Press, Douglas College's student newspaper since 1976. Articles, insight and updates from the New West and Coquitlam campuses.

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