The following is an open letter from Sid Ryan, the Ontario president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, to John Baird, Minister of Community and Social Services, outlining grave concerns about the state of labour relations in the Association for Community Living (ACL) sector.
The Honourable John Baird
Minister of Community and Social Services
Sixth Floor, Hepburn Block
80 Grosvenor Street
Toronto, ON M7A 1E9
Dear Minister Baird,
Under darkness and terrified, people with developmental disabilities, who are clients of the Kirkland Lake Association for Community Living, were recently moved - some against their will - from their safe, familiar group homes to a stark camp, staffed by scab labour. To facilitate this hurtful scenario, the executive director of the Kirkland Lake ACL, whose 80 employees, members of CUPE Local 3440, are on strike for better wages and a pension plan, called in the provincial police and blocked off streets in a residential neighbourhood.
The sight of vulnerable people, visibly distraught has upset many in the Kirkland Lake community. CUPE members, who care deeply about the well-being of the clients they work with, are horrified at the callousness of the action.
What is now unfolding in Kirkland Lake should be of great concern to you Minister Baird, as a pattern of labour disputes is emerging in the sector. Kirkland Lake is the second ACL agency in the past six months to face a bitter strike over wages. The first, a five -month strike at the Fort Frances ACL, has just ended with the workers winning a good wage increase and pension plan.
While their wage settlement is a start, it is short of the recommendations made in the KPMG study, sponsored by the agencies themselves that identified that ACL workers are paid twenty-five per cent less than social service workers in other sectors doing comparable work. Recognizing that this wage crisis is causing instability in the sector, your government committed an additional $31.7 million in funding province-wide. While the money is a good beginning, considerably more provincial funding is needed to bring wages in the sector in line with the increase recommended in the study and to attract new staff to the agencies.
The ministry funding increase has now flowed to ACL agencies province-wide. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that the hard line executive directors of ACL agencies are out of control and out of step with the direction and policies of your ministry and are ignoring the recommendations of the report they themselves commissioned.
In Kirkland Lake, the ACL management seems to have made the decision to use the additional funding from your ministry, totalling more than $112,000, to prolong a strike by paying for out-of-town scabs and increased security. In Fort Frances, the money the agency received was used to end the strike.
With the ministry money now in hand, the Kirkland Lake ACL executive director, should now be returning to the bargaining table to negotiate a collective agreement with the striking workers. So far, this has not happened. Clearly, direction from your office to the Kirkland Lake ACL and other agencies province-wide is desperately needed. I urge you take immediate action before more people with developmental disabilities are put at risk.
For more information please contact:
Sid Ryan, President, CUPE Ontario
Stella Yeadon, CUPE Communications