The picket line for Autumn House strikers in Amherst, Nova Scotia grew by 500% on August 21, when other unions came out to support the women and lead a march to the local MLAs constituency office.
Among the supporters were local members of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union, the International Firefighters Association and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. As well, several other CUPE locals from the Cumberland County area came out to help the 11 sisters from Autumn House, who have been on strike since August 11.
The womens shelter workers and their supporters marched down the main street of Amherst during afternoon rush hour, but motorists didnt seem to mind. Drivers honked their horns with enthusiasm, and gave the women a strong thumbs up.
Ross Grimes, the Atlantic Canada regional director for CUPE, spoke on behalf of all CUPE members across Canada. He said the Autumn House strike may be small, but the union as a whole is big, and would support the women for as long as it takes to win a fair settlement.
When the crowd arrived at the constituency office of Conservative MLA Ernie Fage, speakers denounced the local politician for breaking a key election promise. In last months election campaign, he promised to work towards an end to the dispute between Autumn House workers and the board of directors. So far, there is no evidence that he has done anything.
All the women want is a 9.3% wage increase over four years the same amount that the provincial government has already promised to fund. But so far, the Autumn House board of directors is refusing to pass those funds onto the women.
In the meantime, abused women in Cumberland County are being told to go for services in Truro almost an hour away.
The local media is giving great coverage to the strike. Heres an editorial from the current issue of The Citizen, Cumberland Countys widely-distributed weekly:
The message is loud and clear for Premier John Hamm broker a deal in the Autumn House situation now.
The now week-old strike has sent a clear indication to Hamm that the 11 employees picketing are a vital component to Cumberland County and their services are invaluable.
The union has said it would end the strike if the board passes on the 9.3 per cent promised its members by the province. But the board says the dispute is about much more than the pay raises.
What needs to be done when the smoke clears, is the government needs to make transition house services essential and eligible for full funding.
Is their work somehow not worth it? I think not. Transition House workers have helped countless women and children who have been involved in domestic violence situations. Their valuable services deserve to be respected by the province.
In Amherst, Autumn House has outreach programs all over the county. Their services have helped families in horrible situations and that, in itself, is an invaluable task.
Hamm has only a small group to deal with in this situation and it was unnecessary for a strike to occur when he could have dealt with this long ago.
If he ends up dropping the ball on this one, whos to say what will happen when it comes time to negotiate with health-care workers and nurses?