A strike by local Family and Children’s Services workers has finally come to an end after three weeks of job action and protests. Members of CUPE Local 2577 – comprising about 93 child protection workers throughout Lanark, Leeds, and Grenville – began striking on July 12 after a year of negotiations failed to end in a deal agreeable to both sides. Early last week, a tentative deal was reached, and members voted to ratify the deal on August 2, three weeks to the day of the beginning of the strike.
Throughout the strike, picketing and rallies took place across the region as workers attempted to raise awareness about their stressful working conditions, and the growing shortfalls of their compensation. A solidarity rally also took place, with members from other CUPE chapters showing their support by holding events of their own.
“We’re tired of our clients having to apologize to us. We hear, ‘I’m sorry to bother you, I know you’re busy,’ all the time and that should never be the case,” said Jennifer Cromey, a family service worker with FCSLLG. “Our jobs are to support families, to keep them strong, and to keep children safe. We just want the resources to make that possible and this deal is a small step in that direction.”
A release sent to the Times suggests that “tough negotiations and job actions are roiling the child welfare sector after years of government cuts and downward pressure on workers”. It proposes that “cases are more demanding than ever as workers try to provide in community supports to keep families together amidst layers of mental health challenges, poverty, violence and addiction”. Jennifer added: “Until something changes at the top, until we see the Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services make a meaningful commitment to keeping vulnerable children safe, we’re going to see more workers picketing to ensure their communities get investments.”
The negotiated deal contains improved workload language, higher wages, and an increased mileage allowance. It was narrowly passed, with 43 members voting in favour and 40 opposed.
“This should serve as a wakeup call for our agency and the entire Ministry. Workers are not happy. The communities we serve are not happy,” said Arlette Carrier, CUPE 2577 President.
“People came out in droves to support us because they know we should be doing better by families and children. We voted for this deal because we want to be there for those who need us, but we are going to keep organizing and keep the pressure on to make sure we have the resources we need to support families.”
The deal includes a 6.75 per cent wage increase over the life of the contract, which runs until 2024, and an increased gas allowance from 52 cents to 58 cents for 2024. “The issue which caused the greatest stir in the meeting, though, was workload,” reads a press release sent to the Times. “Workload triggers – the number of cases members can have before a meeting is automatically set with their manager to review their case burden – was lowered by one, a move that Carrier says will only begin to alleviate member burnout and improve the quality of services families receive.”
Picket lines remained up until the ratification vote at 10am on August 2. The employer still needed to ratify the agreement after it was ratified by workers. As of the time of writing, CUPE 2577 members were expected to be back to work by August 8.