Members of the CUPE 2577 bargaining unit, which represents child protection workers and support staff at Family and Children’s Services of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville, began striking last week after bargaining for better wages and resources was unsuccessful.
The Union reports that workers have been “stretched thin by mounting workloads”, citing a desire to invest in services for vulnerable children as one major reason for the strike.
One of the specific issues leading to the job action is wages. Specifically, there has been concern that skilled and experienced workers can’t be adequately retained with the wages that are being offered. Bargaining has been taking place for over a year without success.
“When we talk about cases and workload, we’re really talking about children,” said Arlette Carrier, a child protection worker and CUPE 2577 President. “Every case is a child and a family who needs help. From the beginning of bargaining, we have been focused on getting the resources to ensure that help is there when it’s needed and I am incredibly disappointed that our employer refused to see the justice in our demands or the urgent challenges confronting families. We’re focused on keeping children with their families and we work with children who are at very high risk living with their families. This work takes time to build safety plans with the family and community, build relationships with parents, meet with children and families, and provide the critical supports that keep children safe in their family home. More reasonable workloads would mean more time to support families and keep children safe.”
As is the case across many industries, there has been concern amongst CUPE 2577 members that the rising cost of living, for reasons such as high inflation and very high food and fuel prices, has made small proposed wage increases unlivable. Family and Children’s Services workers were offered “wages well below the levels of inflation and mileage allowances nearly ten cents below CRA guidelines.”
“No case is ever just one thing,” said Jennifer Cromey, a family service worker with FCSLLG. “We deal with trauma, poverty, mental health challenges, addiction, violence, housing precarity and so on. Our worst fear is that we’ll miss something and a child will get hurt. That’s why we pick up our phones in the middle of the night and work weekends. But we can’t go on like this. Management’s choices have led to an exodus of staff. We’re working ourselves to exhaustion and children and families aren’t getting the support they need.”
Workers were picketing last week from Wednesday until Friday in both Brockville and Smiths Falls. A deal had not been reached as of the time of writing. Essential services have been provided during strike action to avoid the potential dangers to vulnerable children that a full withdrawal of services would cause.