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SAULT STE. MARIE, ON – Unionized workers of the Children’s Aid Society of Algoma say they will be in a legal strike or lockout position should their mediation talks fail on August 31.

The mediation talks were set after negotiations with the conciliator appointed by the Ministry of Labour failed to achieve progress. “Even after filing for conciliation, the employer has not taken our union, nor the process of negotiation seriously,” said Lee-Ann Pettenuzzo, President of Local 5269. “Their proposals still include concessions and remain far below the standards in our sector.”

Members of Local 5269 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) have been working without a contract since April 2015 and are urging the employer to return to the bargaining table to reach a fair collective agreement. The strike or lockout deadline is set for September 2, 2015.

For Pettenuzzo, the negotiations have fallen short due to the employer’s lack of respect toward their work. “There’s little respect for the important work our members do. We help ensure children are safe and families are serviced appropriately to mitigate risk. We address concerns such as substance abuse, domestic violence, poverty and mental health. These issues are becoming more and more prominent in our community and a labour disruption would have a direct impact on the community’s most vulnerable people.”

In the event of a labour disruption the agency will only focus on emergency services and they will not be operating the supervised access program, responding only to urgent court matters.

The employer and the union members have competing mandates, according to Pettenuzzo. “The employer is obligated to meet a budget. However front line workers are mandated to provide services. The province’s new funding formula doesn’t necessarily provide the services that are required in our area, especially here in the north where they are needed most,” added Pettenuzzo.

As a result of the lack of funding in the sector, child welfare services are often the fall back agency to provide services and ensure children’s safety. “At this time, the employer is focused on meeting the budget and although the union recognizes the constraints due to cut back directives from the provincial government, the employer remains silent on key issues such as worker safety, workload demands and overall wellness for front line staff,” said Pettenuzzo

Social service workers increasingly face high risk situations. “They are not only at a high risk for PTSD but deal with clients that are battling mental health and addictions,” said Pettenuzzo. “Front line workers are expected to provide on call services 24/7 but with their heavy workloads they are basically forced to provide “bandaid” solutions to clients who require serious interventions. The employer does not appear to recognize these challenges as their lack of interest in negotiating speaks volumes in terms of where their priorities stand.”

“Members remain committed to this life long career,” added Pettenuzzo . “However, the burnout rate is on the rise as the mental wellness of social workers isn’t being considered by the employer. Effective intervention with families struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse and domestic violence not only protect the children within that environment but have a ripple effect in the community. A disruption of service would negatively impact the Algoma district as a whole.”

“If Local 5269 doesn’t protect their members’ overall wellbeing through a fair collective agreement then how will the children of our community remain protected,” added Pettenuzzo. “Show your support by contacting Executive Director Kim Striech-Poser.”

For more information, please contact:

Lee-Ann Pettenuzzo
President CUPE Local 5269

Cathy Donnelly
CUPE National Representative

Mario Emond
CUPE Communications