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About 70 social services workers in Perth, Ontario, were locked out January 24, while bargaining a first contract.

The members of CUPE Local 4474, all but three women, work at three group homes, two child care centres and a housing service operated by Tayside Community Residential and Support Options.

Wages, pensions and other issues are in dispute but the main issue is the employer’s hostility.

This agency is so determined to punish its employees for forming a union, they seem oblivious to the harm they’re causing, says CUPE representative Bev Smale. “All we wanted was to reach a negotiated agreement, but we weren’t given a chance”.

It seems our employer wants the cheapest care money can buy,” says Debbie MacParland, a counselor at a home for persons with physical and mental handicaps. “We’ve already lost over 20 good workers over tension and frustration between the employees and the employer. These aren’t the kinds of standards any community should be proud of.”

The employer has brought in scabs to staff the group homes and has hired a private security firm with a history of intimidating picketers.

If Tayside is really interested in saving money, why are they wasting money on a $1,500-a-day consultant, hiring and housing scab labour and a lot of unnecessary security?” asks local president Martine Dal. “Didn’t the Ontario government give them additional funding for wages? And why won’t they let board members speak to anyone about these issues?”

With an 84 per cent strike mandate, the local’s hanging tough. They won’t let the employer punish them for unionizing.