Napanee shelter workers ratify deal, ending five-month strike

Striking shelter workers at the Lennox and Addington Interval House (LAIH) have accepted and unanimously ratified the employer’s most recent offer, ending a five-month-long strike that saw them picketing through the winter’s most brutal weather.

This striking worker, pictured here at a community rally in support of striking Lennox and Addington Interval House Workers on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, 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.” The workers ratified an agreement with their employer on Tuesday, Mar. 29, 2022. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

Brooke McIlvaney, one of the striking workers who has been a vocal advocate on their behalf throughout the strike, shared her relief as the strike, which began in late October 2021, and saw union representative picket outside the home of Napanee Mayor Marg Isbester, comes to end.

“We are very happy to be able to return to work and support the women and children of this community as they flee domestic violence,” she shared. “We have tentatively accepted an offer and look forward to our return. I am so proud of each and every member who stood in solidarity through frigid temperatures and dark days. We have come through this a stronger team and will work together to keep the forward momentum going.”

She also expressed gratitude to the locals who have been backing the workers during their months on the picket line.

“Throughout this long strike, there have been highs and lows, but throughout, we have received so much support from our community and are forever grateful,” McIlvaney shared. “We couldn’t have done it without you.”

The striking workers had an outpouring of community support, including at 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.

LAIH is a shelter that serves women and children escaping domestic violence. Shelter 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.

This ratification vote ends the strike, which began Friday, Oct. 29, 2021.

“On behalf of our union, I must recognize the heartwarming support that these workers received from their neighbours during this long and difficult strike,” said Katha Fortier, Unifor Assistant to the National President. “I know that every single member is grateful for their community, and is ready to return to work once again.”

Members ratified a four-year collective agreement dated from August 1, 2019, when the previous contract expired, to July 31, 2023. According to a release from Unifor, the deal includes improved job posting and grievance procedure language, and new language on return to work and injury at work. Workers will also receive a nine per cent wage increase over the term of the agreement.

“I thought that was a very unnecessary strike, but at some point, you have got to get a conclusion, so we voted on the employer’s last offer and it was accepted,” observed Mike Armstrong, the servicing representative (consultant) for Local 414. “At some point, common sense has to kick in.”

Armstrong also remarked that the long and, in his opinion, unnecessarily drawn-out process, has resulted in “a well-schooled membership. So yeah, we’ll make changes on the inside now.”

Further to that, “It’s the union’s, and the members’ belief that there are more improvements to be made at LAIH, and we’re committed to being partners in the continued advancement of shelter and outreach services,” said Gord Currie, Unifor Local 414 President. “With this contract, members can return to work and continue supporting survivors of violence in the community.”

Unifor advocates for the rights of all working people, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future, the organization said.

Request for comment from the LAIH Board of Directors, as well as Interval House Executive Director Sue Weir, were not immediately returned.

With files from Jessica Foley.

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