CUPE 2073On International Women’s Day, striking workers from the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) are reflecting on the important role women have played in their union.

“On International Women’s Day, we can’t help but recognize the fact that our union is almost 90 percent women,” said Stacey Connor, President of CUPE 2073. “We are on strike to defend vital health benefits fought for by women in this union. These women saw the need for health protections so that we provide services to the Deaf, Oral Deaf, Deafened and Hard of Hearing in working conditions that respect the emotional and physical impacts of our work.”

227 counsellors, literacy instructors, audiologists, speech language pathologists, interpreters/interpreter trainers, clerical support, program coordinators, program assistants, information technology specialists, and other staff from CHS offices across Ontario, have been on strike since Monday, after talks broke down over the weekend. CUPE National Representative Barbara Wilker-Frey believes the strike has been caused by an organization that has lost its way.

“On International Women’s Day, questions are being asked about the shift in priorities that they’ve noticed at CHS over the past two years,” Said Wilker-Frey. “Why has CHS shifted from an agency that serves Deaf, Oral Deaf, Deafened and Hard of Hearing people to one that is focused on profit? Why is a workforce that this 90 per cent female, and largely from the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community, being asked to give up vital health benefits? Why is language in the contract, that was fought for by women to protect women’s health, being targeted?”

The questions being asked by CHS employees echo a lot of what it is being said in the community. “We’ve got great support from the community so far,” says Wilker-Frey. “People recognize that something has changed, that the organization seems less concerned with providing service to the community. People who rely on CHS services noticed change, and our members, many of whom also rely on these services, are now being asked to roll back their health provisions as the organization becomes more profit-driven.”

Currently, no new talks have been scheduled between the two parties, but Wilker-Frey remains optimistic. “We have worked hard to come up with proposals that work for both the CHS and our members. We are still awaiting a response on the most recent offer and remain open to sitting down at the table and discussing it any time.”

In the meantime, the members of CUPE 2073 will be on the picket line on International Women’s Day, in solidarity with women across the globe who are fighting for equity, justice and human rights.