CUPE members at Biidaaban and Sioux Mountain Children’s Centres are fearful of child care space loss after the Municipality of Sioux Lookout announces transfer of child care services to the Kenora District Service Board (KDSB).

“At a time when child care is crucial for our COVID-19 economic recovery, and Sioux Lookout is experiencing a crushing child care space and labour shortage, we’re baffled as to why Mayor Doug Lawrence and Council are taking such a risky gamble on critical services that support families, particularly women who require child care to work or attend school,” says Carrie Lynn Poole-Cotnam, CUPE Ontario social services chair. “The municipality and KDSB are essentially giving workers an ultimatum: relinquish your CUPE bargaining rights or lose everything that you have accumulated and accomplished from your years of service delivering child care—that child care workers absolutely deserve and continue to fight for in Ontario and nationwide.”

KDSB has indicated that it would walk away from the service transfer agreement if CUPE members assert their bargaining rights, reports the union. The service transfer is set to take place effective January 1, 2022. KDSB has until November 17, 2021, to back out of the deal, according to the transfer agreement approved by the municipality.

“It’s incredibly alarming and has caused serious concerns for families and the workers who provide early learning and child care in the region,” says Kristin Wray, Vice-President of CUPE 2141. “If we lose child care in Sioux Lookout, it would be devastating for families who will have to find alternate child care arrangements in Dryden, more than 75km away. Many may have to quit their jobs or school because of a lack of childcare, or have to choose between their job, schooling, and the safety of their children by facing the hard reality that they may have to leave their children in the care of others who do not hold the experience and expertise as the quality child care workers that care for their children right now,” says Wray.

There are more than 120 children on a waitlist for child care offered by the municipality, reports CUPE.

“Harshly shortchanging workers with no guarantee of improved child care services or additional spaces just doesn’t make sense,” says Wray. “Losing CUPE status would set child care back decades in Sioux Lookout. We’d be back at square one at the bargaining table to maintain our collective agreement rights that ensure respectable jobs and quality child care in our community.”

CUPE 2141 represents 18 child care workers, who are mostly women, at the Municipality of Sioux Lookout.