Lennox and Addington Interval House women’s shelter staff unanimously reject forced contract vote

Lennox and Addington Interval House (LAIH) made its ‘final offer’ to its employees last week, choosing to use its employer right to force a contract vote. However, in the secret ballot vote conducted by the Labour Board on Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021, the offer was unanimously rejected.

LAIH is a shelter in Napanee that serves women and children escaping domestic violence, whose workers have been been on strike since Oct. 29, 2021, when after over a year of negotiations, talks about contract language stalled. The workers are represented by Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, which represents 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy.

The twenty staff members of LAIH remain steadfast in their request for fair working conditions as they continue their Centre Street strike in Napanee. Submitted photo.

The current collective agreement has been expired for more than one year and covers approximately 20 workers at LAIH who are seeking the same or similar processes and benefits that sister agencies in neighbouring communities have, aiming to address issues of representation, disciplinary actions, and job postings. 

Mike Armstrong, a consultant who works on bargaining and negotiation for the Local 414 unit, expressed frustration with the employer. “It was unanimous because the key issues of job postings, temporary job posting, and grievance language representation were not addressed. So putting it simply: they can’t buy people with money.”

The employers’ final offer surprised the Union because throughout negotiations the employer’s bargaining agent made claims that LAIH was covered under Bill 124, the wage restraint legislation for agencies [and] government employees, that caps total compensation to a one per cent increase as of June 5, 2019. However, the offered contract admitted that the shelter is not subject to Bill 124 (Act to implement moderation measures in respect of compensation in Ontario’s public sector), said Armstrong. During negotiations, the union requested public audit reports from management as well as the Board of LAIH to prove that as a non-profit organization they had received the required $1 million in funding from the Provincial Government to trigger the legislation.

Armstrong said the Union knew the claims were unfounded, “We already knew that; we have the records that they were not covered under Bill 124, the wage restraint Act, but they maintained that position right up until the final offer, and then they gave a wishy-washy ‘well, we’ve checked with community social services, we don’t get a million dollars.’”

“Right. We already know that. We have the documents,” said Armstrong, calling the process “very misleading.”

Gord Currie, Unifor Local 414 President, also expressed frustration with the bargaining process. “One of the issues throughout this entire dispute has been LAIH management’s refusal to face workers directly, to bargain fairly or truly listen to the workers. That must change. We have always been willing to return to the table and I once again invite LAIH management and the board to bargain with these shelter workers directly.”

The offer also failed to include more than 20 previously agreed to changes and made no effort to improve on workers’ core issues of staffing levels, union representation, health and safety and return to work language, Armstrong explained.

The Union gave LAIH its own offer on the last day of bargaining, which included the 20 plus language changes to the contract, and which Armstrong said were previously agreed to and subsequently ignored in the ‘Final Offer’. “So now that their ‘Final Offer’ has been rejected, what we have on the table is the appropriate language changes that will satisfy the membership. So it’s incumbent upon the employer now to come back to the table.”

“These women are absolutely united, and have been steadfast on their needs since the start of negotiations earlier this year,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “I hope that this vote is a clear enough message to the shelter’s board and LAIH management, that it’s time to treat shelter workers with respect and stand by their own previous commitments made at the bargaining table.”

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