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'We’re looking to get back to the table': Locked out workers walking the picket line

Canada Mental Health Association Cochrane-Timiskaming workers were locked out on Feb. 13

Local social workers want to get back to helping their clients.

On Feb. 13, Canadian Mental Health Association’s Cochrane-Timiskaming (CMHA C-T) management locked out 147 workers. The labour dispute is limiting clients' access to addictions, housing, and mental health support.

“We’ve been locked out by our employer, they’re refusing to listen to our demands,” said Dustin Bayley, Local 631 vice president and bargaining team member. “They’re trying to segregate, creating a two-tiered system for individuals, so it’s creating a lot of divide, and we’re looking to get back to the table, we’re ready, we're willing, we’re able.”

CMHA C-T executive director Paul Jalbert said he hopes the union will put these issues to a vote.

"At the end of the day, we're going to have to have a conversation around how do we make a deal," he said. "At this point, the employer has an offer on the table, and unfortunately, our staff is on the picket line right now, and they haven't voted on that offer. We would really hope that the union would bring that to the members to see what their opinions are." 

After a stretch of unseasonably warm weather, the lockout started just as winter set in again. Today, for the second day in a row, locked-out workers bundled on layers of warm clothing to hit the picket line in Timmins outside of the office on Second Avenue.

Many of the people on the line have been with CMHA for decades.

“I’ve worked here 30 years, I’ve dedicated 30 years of my career I’ve dedicated to CMHA, I’ve never been locked out, I’ve never been on strike, so our biggest issue is concessions,” said Maggie Wakeford, president of Local 631 and bargaining chair. “We’re not going backward.”

Workers are on the picket line across the district.

“The work that these folks do is vital to this community; they are keeping people alive every day, and they’re worried sick about their clients,” said Tara Maszczakiewicz, OPSEU/SEFPO region six vice-president. 

Joelle Gauthier has worked for 33 years and is hoping to retire this spring. She said it’s hard knowing that their clients are the ones who will pay the price for the lock out.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I think I would be locked out by my employer,” she said. “I love the job that we do. The people we serve need us so much, now more than ever since the pandemic, and this is just bad for them.”

Gauthier got emotional when she spoke about what this lockout is doing.

“The clients are number one here, and I really hope that we can settle this really quickly,” she said.

That hope was echoed by many of the people on the picket line, but there’s a sense that this lock-out could go on for weeks.

The point of contention during negotiations has been a buy-in for a Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) that would see workers paying four per cent into the program when offered a three per cent pay raise.

“For us to get into it, we’ll have to pay four per cent to actually join HOOPP, so for our first year, they offered us three per cent, but we’re down already,” said Wakeford.

Jalbert said that the switch to the HOOPP plan would involve switching to an employee-paid long-term disability premium.

"The increases to south Cochrane staff would greatly exceed that amount," he said.

The union asked for full financial disclosure but has not seen those records yet.

“If you’re above board and you say you have no money, then show us the books,” said Wakeford.

Bargaining for this contract started in November.

Wakeford said they have had a lot of support with drivers honking, but she said there was an incident on the first day where a member of management inching their vehicle toward picketers and not wanting to stop. 

"Our folks do really important work and I'd much rather see them in our offices than out on a picket line," said Jalbert.

The last bargaining meeting took place on Feb. 8.

During the lockout, there will be CMHA services. Things to note, according to the CMHA website are:

  • Injections are being administered at the offices.
  • Clozaril monitoring will continue at the offices.
  • Medication support and delivery are being provided as usual.
  • Most appointments with doctors and psychiatrists will continue. Clients should confirm appointment times and locations.

A full list of what services are affected is available on the CMHA Cochrane-Timiskaming website.

In case of a mental health emergency, immediate support is still available at:

  • The nearest hospital emergency room
  •  988 suicide crisis helpline, which is available 24/7
  •  Health 211
  •  The Cochrane District Crisis Response Service by calling 1-888-340-3003

Amanda Rabski-McColl, LJI Reporter

About the Author: Amanda Rabski-McColl, LJI Reporter

Amanda Rabski-McColl is a Diversity Reporter under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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