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Napanee community rallies around striking shelter workers

Napanee was the site of a solidarity protest on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, when over 100 people joined the 20 striking women who work for Lennox and Addington Interval House (LAIH) on the picket line.

This striking woman said, “It’s great to see so many people here. We have been out here in the freezing cold this winter, it is nice to have support. And it isn’t even about money. It’s all about language in the contract to protect us.” Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

The “Support Strike” was organized online by Strike Support for Lennox & Addington Interval House Employees, a Facebook group of over over 400 members, to mark an unhappy milestone now that the women have been on the picket line for over 100 days.

Concerned citizens and members of other labour councils who joined the picket line throughout the day, lined both sides of Center Street (Highway 41) to collect donations, hold signs, wave flags, and ring bells of support while passing motorists beeped their horns in solidarity.

A citizen collects donations to help the shelter workers who have been on strike since Oct. 29, 2021. Supporters flanked both sides of Center Street to make their presence known. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.
Even canine companions showed their support. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

LAIH employees are members of local unit 414 of Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, with more than 315,000 members across the country, working in every major sector of the Canadian economy.

Mike Armstrong, the servicing representative (consultant) for Local 414 was on hand at the line. He said, “This was fantastic to see a real show of support for these ladies. You know, we get lots of honks going by, but to see the labour councils and concerned citizens coming out… It’s a real morale booster for these ladies. You know, it’s been a long struggle it is nonsensical what we’re out here for, it makes no sense, but it’s a real boost for these ladies to know that they’re not alone.”

LAIH Executive Director Sue Weir has refused to negotiate with the employees since December and has been accused of bringing in “scab” workers to do the jobs of her employees.

Brooke McIlvaney, one of the striking women shared that she felt boosted by the support, saying, “I think there have been times that we’ve been feeling a bit defeated as this drags on and to have all this community support and people rallying around us… It really makes us feel better to know that we have such support behind us… and we’ve had such a great showing of people here. Lots of different unions and lots of friends and family and community members have come out to support us. It is just amazing.”

Several smiling kids showed solidarity with their striking moms, aunts and friends as they enjoyed the snowbanks and hot chocolate. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.
Kings of the picket castle. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

“Interval House’s mission is to provide a safe place for our community’s most vulnerable: abused woman and their children. Yet when asked to improve the health and safety of working conditions, the members of Local 414 are ignored. Enough is enough,” reads a news release from Unifor. 

“It’s time for management to get back to the table and show workers respect,” the release continues. “Because everyone needs to feel safe at Interval House. Including the people who work there.”

The current collective agreement has been expired for more than a year. The unit voted 100 per cent in favour of strike action. Workers 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.

Video by Michelle Dorest Forestell.
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