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On the first full day of the Autumn House womens shelter strike in Amherst, Nova Scotia, strikers taught management a valuable lesson no scabs allowed.

They got the message loud and clear.

When Autumn House board member Sharon Murphy showed up to do replacement work on Tuesday, August 11, she was immediately surrounded by the eleven women of CUPE 4326. We blocked her path by forming a human link, says the president, Terry Cove. We chanted in her face, but it was respectful.

A CBC camera was on the scene, and caught the whole thing on tape including the arrival of an Amherst police officer. But the cop couldnt stop the will and enthusiasm of the strikers. Pretty soon, back-up was called. Thats when strikers finally gave up.

But Cove says it was worth it. Two more police officers came, and both sides had a polite discussion about picket line rules. And no scabs have tried to cross the line since.

Cove calls the whole experience hair-raising, but important. As womens shelter workers, she says, We see women all the time who arent empowered to stand up for whats right for them. If we cant stand up for our own rights, it depowers what we say to them.

Cove and her ten CUPE sisters are trying to get their first raise since 1998. The Nova Scotia government has provided funding to Autumn House for a 9.3% wage increase over four years, but the board of directors is refusing to pass the raise onto workers. As well, the board wants to make a number of other changes to the collective agreement that the strikers find unacceptable:
  • 12-hour shifts without overtime pay
  • elimination of maternity leave coverage
  • reduced coverage for long-term disability payments
  • more volunteer workers, with a corresponding reduction in paid staff
Currently, the Autumn House workers have no pension plan, no Workers Compensation, and no time-and-a-half provisions for overtime and statutory holidays. But Cove says the workers arent asking for any of those rights. All we want is a status quo collective agreement, with the raise that the government has already agreed to fund, she says.

So far, the women have accepted generous donations of food and money. But Cove says theyre concerned about the people they want to help the women who depend on Autumn House as a refuge from abusive men. Now that the workers are on strike, theres no one in the community to provide round-the-clock care and counselling, and no one to answer the homes crisis line.

Cove says women are being told to go to the shelter in Truro, but she says thats not good enough. That will have a negative effect on women, says Cove. Theyll stay in their homes, because it complicates things for them. Theyll stay in dangerous situations rather than leave.

The fastest way for the women of Amherst to get their shelter services back is by getting a quick settlement for the workers. Please call the Autumn House womens shelter at 902-667-1344 or send an e-mail to cctha@ns.sympatico.ca and encourage the board of directors to negotiate a fair ending to this strike.