On behalf of vulnerable children and families, child protection workers expressed anger and disappointment that Nipissing and Parry Sound Children’s Aid Society (CAS) is unwilling to agree to a deal that will keep children safe and end the lockout that began on December 23.

Negotiations that began Friday failed to produce an agreement over the weekend, despite the union’s willingness to withdraw several of its original proposals in the interest of getting locked-out child protection workers back on the job.

Nipissing and Parry Sound CAS’s return to the bargaining table was accompanied once again by a list of proposals that, if implemented, would only erode services for children and youth and degrade working conditions for unionized employees, said a spokesperson for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents frontline workers and administrative and support staff at the children’s aid society.

The union’s negotiators got their latest warning of the employer’s continuing inflexibility when its Friday offer came with a Sunday expiry date, prompting CUPE national representative Fran Bélanger to note, “We’re not buying and selling real estate here. Children’s aid workers have been locked out of their jobs for nearly two months; it’s insulting and foolhardy to restart negotiations by putting a time limit on an offer. It’s not like there’s one from another party coming later.”

The union made substantial changes to its earlier contract proposals and agreed to drop others in the hope of getting a deal. However, the children’s aid society didn’t show similar flexibility and insisted on including measures that would entrench inequality among workers, hurt morale and harm services. These include the elimination of province-wide provisions for children’s aid workers; and the introduction of more two-tier language that would mean future hires aren’t entitled to the same benefits as existing staff.

To address the CAS’s concerns over sick leave, the union also agreed to the CAS’s proposals for attendance management tools.

Nipissing and Parry Sound CAS did offer to cut and paste a recent workload arbitration at Peel CAS into its contract with CUPE, “but these workers cover an area with a huge geographical spread. We need workload language tailored to the issues in Nipissing and Parry Sound,” said Bélanger.

“The CAS asked the union to look at its warmed-over proposals ‘through a new lens,’” she continued. “But after eight weeks of a lockout, we don’t need a new lens and we aren’t wearing rose-coloured glasses.

“If the society looks at the union’s offer to settle – through any lens it wants – it will see a deal than can end the dispute. And our offer doesn’t come with an expiry date.”

CUPE’s negotiators advised the Nipissing and Parry Sound CAS that the union is ready to continue bargaining and will not impose any deadline for reaching a fair settlement.