02) CUPE WOMEN STEP UP THE FIGHT ON THE PICKET LINES
By Helen Kennedy
Since April of last year, something amazing has been happening in CUPE in
Strike activity has been focused in two sectors – children’s protection services and libraries. Protracted underfunding by the provincial government has led to wage stagnation and dramatic increases in workloads for frontline workers in Children’s Aid Societies across the province. Library Workers have been fighting to improve wages and working conditions for their primarily precarious workforce for years.
Children’s Protection Services
CUPE Local 4325, representing workers at Family and Children’s Services of Guelph and Wellington County, were the first out on the picket lines in April 2016. Their previous negotiations resulted in a 2-year wage freeze, followed upon ratification by a 9% increase for management staff. After three weeks on the line, the union was able to sign a deal that increased wages and improved contract language.
In September, 434 members of CUPE 4914, representing workers at Peel Children’s Aid Society, were out on strike to demand workload and job evaluation improvements. After the bargaining committee rejected the employer’s latest offer, management mailed the proposal to each member. The workers rallied to defeat a final offer vote by 93%.
“This offer does nothing to help the children of Peel or the health and safety of workers,” said Stephanie Zaine, frontline worker and member of CUPE 4914. After 13 weeks on the picket line, the local was able to get management to agree to refer outstanding issues to binding arbitration.
Just two days before Christmas, the Nipissing and Parry Sound Children’s Aid Society locked out their workers represented by CUPE Local 2049. Workers had rejected a contract by 96% the week before the lockout and management had no improvements to offer. The issues stem once again from the provincial underfunding and the stress it causes with increased workloads and fear of children ‘falling between the cracks.’ CUPE spokesperson, Fran Belanger, emphasized that the society regularly leaves frontline positions vacant, doesn’t replace employees who are on sick leave, and doesn’t fill other temporary vacancies.
For the remaining child protection workers, these measures require them to cover absent colleagues’ caseloads and perform extra administrative tasks, even though they themselves may be struggling under already excessive workloads. The irony is that management has proposed cuts to sick time provision, even though they regularly don’t replace workers who are off sick!
Fred Hahn, the President of CUPE Ontario, has been kept busy with picket line support.
“The daily reality for the people who work in child protection is that workload needs to be addressed,” says Hahn. “This was first identified with a workload study in 2001 and been recommended in numerous coroner’s inquest reports. Many front line workers live in fear that with the complexities and intensification of the cases they carry, one of the children on their caseload could fall through the cracks. If the government is truly committed to fixing the problems facing the CAS, then it must deal with workload and health and safety issues that child protection workers face every day, along with providing the funding necessary for expanding the mandate of services.”
In addition to the picket line activity at CAS workplaces, 2016 saw an increase
in militancy among Public Library locals.
This past summer, CUPE Local 1989, workers at the
Another similarity between the
The success of Local 1989’s struggle helped to buoy the spirits of another
library unit, the
With thousands of dollars in strike support coming in from across the country, CUPE 2974 has kept up the spirits of their members on the line through some very tough times. In December, the leadership was forced to take a final offer to their members. It was overwhelmingly rejected.
Both current strikes are looking for support – through messages of solidarity, and if you’re in the neighbourhood, picket line support. Updates and picket line locations can be accessed at www.cupe.on.ca
(The above article is from the January 1-31, 2017, issue of