THE local MP, France Gelinas, is today, Wednesday 4th January, visiting the Ontario picket line of 140 childcare workers who have been locked out over Christmas by their employer, the Children’s Aid Society of Nipissing and Parry Sound.
About 140 members of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 2049 began picketing at 9.00am outside the Main Street administration building on Friday 23rd December. Local union president Debbie Hill said contract talks broke off because the two sides remain far apart on several issues.
She said that workload is one of the main issues, with many child welfare and support workers being burdened with extra duties because vacant positions aren’t being filled, as well as ‘unfair’ contract language surrounding layoffs. Keeping the picket lines up over the holidays was difficult, Hill said, but added that her members are ‘strong’.
‘We’re trying to accommodate members to have time with their families, which is extremely important, especially when they’re dealing with this stress,’ she said. But we also want our presence out there and we want the communities to see that we’re standing up for what we believe in and we’re prepared to do what we need to,’ she added.
Hill said many of her members are also thinking about their client families and children, with whom they often develop close bonds. We really believe that this is a fight we need to support not just for our staff, but for those families and for those children,’ she said. That’s what this is really about.’
‘The collective bargaining process has been around for over one hundred years and it works very well,’ said Henri Giroux, North Bay and District Labour Council president, ‘and scab labour overwhelmingly threatens the worker-employer relationship.’
‘That’s why I invited France Gelinas, NDP MPP for Nickel Belt and outspoken advocate against the use of replacement workers, to visit the locked out Nipissing Parry Sound CUPE 2049 workers,’ Giroux explained.
‘Ms Gelinas will visit the 457 Main Street West CAS picket line this Wednesday, January 4th at 11am to show that the bargaining process will work if both sides return to the table, rather than resorting to the use of replacement workers. When either side is unwilling to negotiate and find common ground, the bargaining process falls apart,’
added Giroux, ‘and ever since Mike Harris (Conservative Ontario MP and the province’s former PM) and his bill to allow scabs, collective bargaining continues to be hi-jacked.’
Under the Ontario Labour Relations Act the employer is actually permitted to lock out workers by law. Faced with decades of massive cuts and intentional funding starvation from provincial and federal governments, too many employers in the North Bay area are resorting to tactics that undermine the bargaining process.
Instead of bargaining in good faith, employers like Nipissing and Parry Sound CAS attempt to circumvent the process by blaming workers for tough budgetary decisions.
Rather than reaching collective deals and then joining forces to push back against the Ontario Liberals, the CAS director has chosen to lock out CUPE 2049 child protection workers.
CUPE 2049 workers are not on strike. The director locked them out. ‘She can call it whatever she likes, but the fact that Ms Hébert locked them out and then hired a contingency workforce to replace the highly trained CAS front-line workers shows that she has little respect for the bargaining process.’
Giroux insisted that ‘if scabs were against the law, Ms Hébert and many other Ontario employers would remain at the table until a deal was reached.’ Through the OFL’s Make it Fair campaign, the labour community in Ontario has been asking the Ministry of Labour to bring forward changes to the Labour Relations Act, changes that include banning replacement workers. The use of scab labour during lockouts and strikes not only undermines the bargaining process it damages the workplace long after the dust settles.’
Sonia Yung, (president of CUPE Local 4914) joined CUPE 2048 union officials at a general membership meeting last Thursday. Yung led her members through a 13-week strike at Peel CAS, where unionised employees returned to work on December 19th. Yung told the meeting: ‘Our local went on strike for very similar reasons, we identified workload as a serious concern we identified respect in a unionised environment and our unions bargaining team as a serious concern and from what I understand this employer is just as disrespectful as our employer was.’
Describing the timing of the lockout as ‘simply horrific’, Yung continued: ‘I don’t know how humane it is to lock people out right before Christmas, especially if you are a social service agency that is committed to the welfare and well being of children and families – your workers have children and families.’
Debbie Hill, president of CUPE 2049, (which represents the 140 locked-out workers at Nipissing and Parry Sound CAS), replied: ‘Sister Sonia Yung knows so well what we are going through in our communities. It means much to us that she has travelled north to share with us the benefit of her commitment and experience.
‘Unfortunately, the employer has not been in contact to set any dates for further negotiations. We met in conciliation, the union asked for further dates in the new year but the employer refused. The union is ready anytime to get back to the bargaining table to try and work out a resolution. We are concerned that the employers use of “scab labour” is going to prolong the lockout.’
CUPE members voted 96 per cent against the final offer in a Ministry of Labour-mandated vote on December 13th. ”Unfortunately, the society had nothing to offer its frontline, administrative and support workers, other than the deal that 96 per cent of them turned down just last week,’ Fran Belanger, national representative for CUPE said. We interpret that failure as the CAS’s intention to lock out frontline and other workers from their jobs when the December 23 deadline arrives.’
Local 2049 says the final offer it rejected erodes working conditions and resolves none of the issues that ‘put vulnerable children and families at risk.’ The union says funding for child protection services in Ontario has remained stagnant for the past six years. The freeze has meant a growing deficit over the past three years at Nipissing and Parry Sound CAS, with the audited financial statement from March 2016 reporting a $2.6-million deficit.
GTA CUPE rep Chris Dawson told the locked out workers to ‘never give up’, he continued: ‘The use of scab labour is meant to communicate how employers consider them expendable and replaceable to unionised workers. It’s meant to erode the moral of those on strike. It makes it easier for employers to just wait out striking workers who will eventually cry “uncle” and lowers their expectation at bargaining time. It should be illegal and bargaining done in this way should be considered in bad faith.’