After going without a contract for four years, workers at 24 Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) offices across Ontario could be on strike on March 4. A spokesperson for Local 2073 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 2073) which represents counsellors, literacy instructors, audiologists, speech language pathologists, interpreters/interpreter trainers, clerical support, program coordinators, program assistants, information technology specialists and other staff at CHS offices believes that working conditions are being attacked as part of a shift in priorities at the organization.
Since 2015 many employees and people in the community feel the organization has moved from a service provider by and for Deaf, Oral Deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people to a more business and profit-driven entity. It has been noted that during this time the vast majority of newly hired executives are not from the Deaf community.
“Our members provide vital services to the culturally Deaf, Oral Deaf, hard of hearing and deafened, such as interpretation, mental health and employment services,” says CUPE National Staff Representative Barbara Wilker-Frey, “but now we are seeing a shift in the CHS from a focus on providing services to a more profit-seeking client relationship. This round of negotiations we are seeing an attack on workers’ health benefits and working conditions instead of a partnership between members of the same community.”
The current negotiations cover a time period that is already passed. “We can put these four years behind us with a contract that offers modest increases and language that has already been agreed to,” says Wilker-Frey. “Once this is settled we can sit down in partnership and figure out how we move forward. We want to be seen as a partner in this organization, not an enemy.”
The two sides will be in legal strike or lockout position as of Saturday, March 4. The two sides will meet with a provincially appointed mediator on Friday, March 3 in an attempt to reach an agreement. “Our members are prepared for a strike if it is the only way to get our message across,” says Wilker-Frey. “We hope that CHS acts in the best interest of culturally Deaf, Oral Deaf, deafened and hard of hearing across Ontario and comes back to the table ready to negotiate a fair deal.”