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Lockout turns to strike action in bitter Children's Aid dispute

'We feel the agency is in crisis and the situation is out of control'
children's aid locked out workers 3 turl 2017
Locked out Children's Aid society picket outside the McIntyre St. office. Photo by Jeff Turl.

The Children's Aid Society may have lifted its lockout of workers but CUPE has declared a strike in response as the four-month dispute remains unresolved.

Debbie Hill, President, CUPE 2049 told BayToday, "We're not prepared to return under the ridiculous conditions that the employer is suggesting and leave our members at risk and unable to do their job of protecting families.

“Now, after a four-month lockout, CAS directors are telling us, come back to work, but we’ll still foist on you everything that caused the dispute in the first place – oh, and we’ll also get rid of your union at the same time."

Hill describes the membership as "frustrated and angry" by the latest management move.

"We feel the agency is in crisis and the situation is out of control."

The union has called on the Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau to take over the administration of Nipissing and Parry Sound CAS.

"We need the minister to exercise his authority under the act to step in, dissolve the board, and fix this mess.

"What the employer has done here is proposed a lose-lose ultimatum. They ask us to go to arbitration, then rather than follow through they've now reneged on that and are trying to open doors with conditions that not only are containing all the concessions that they didn't achieve in bargaining and the things that were supposed to go to arbitration, but some of the things they've listed are actually worse than the concessions they tabled. They also added that final point which essentially dissolves the union entirely."

A union news release states,"The terms and conditions that Nipissing and Parry Sound CAS has posted for a return to work would saddle workers with an inappropriate and harmful sick leave plan – something that would ultimately hurt services and which has been one of the major issues of the lockout. The society’s terms also remove the rights of the union from the collective agreement and fail to recognize role of the union or even which workers are unionized." 

Hill says the union has the overwhelming support of its actions by the membership.  

See: Lockout lifted, but no agreement

Meanwhile in a news release today from management, Board President John Stopper says "The main issue between the parties remains the 85 days of 'sick leave' entitlement that is administratively and financially unsupportable.

"As a responsible institution funded by taxpayer dollars, we have been advised to and are simply attempting to reign this exceptional perquisite back to normalcy".

Executive Director Gisele Hebert says the Society has never sought to undermine the union.

"The union would only authorize a return-to-work protocol that required continuance of 85 days of sick leave available to all returning staff."

Hebert says that the offer of the Employer includes retrospective entitlement of sick leave provisions resulting from an agreement or a ruling.

"The union categorically refused such offer, leaving the Society with no choice but to lift the lockout."

Stopper has called for "the continued dialogue between the parties towards a reasonable resolve of all outstanding issues".

In their release today Stopper said, "The lifting of the lockout is not contingent upon consent as variously reported, nor does it list 17 conditions for return to work. The lockout has been lifted. The Board's Chair advises that "there is no consent necessary on the part of staff or the union".

That's a complete change from a Society statement made yesterday which stated "Employees who consent to the terms and conditions outlined on the CAS website will be welcomed back to work Monday April 24, 2017"

Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario describes the move as unprecedented.

"The CAS’s directors are clearly unwilling to have the agency fulfil its most basic duties as a children’s aid society; they’ve also made it clear they want this CAS to operate as a non-union shop. It’s an agency out of control.

“What they are really doing is attempting to dissolve the union. But I can tell you, neither the labour laws of Ontario nor the will of CUPE members will allow them to do this.”