Prevention is better than cure and community-based mental health supports are meant to help before families break down. Workers at Yorktown Family Services – members of the Toronto Civic Employees’ Union, CUPE 416 voted unanimously in favour of a strike vote yesterday. This vote by workers at Yorktown Family Services reveals a crisis within one of Toronto’s most critical community service agencies.

Roughly 45 members of CUPE 416 work at Yorktown Family Services as social workers, clinical workers, and administrative staff. When community advocates talk about upstream interventions and critical community programs, these are the frontline workers they’re talking about. They work directly with young people and families who are struggling, offering mental health supports, counselling, and a host of programs that change lives.

“When we’re at our best, we are the first line of help for families in need. We work in communities and in peoples’ homes, so they have support for whatever they’re facing. But Yorktown Family Services isn’t at it’s best, and it hasn’t been for quite some time. Workers are burnt out and are leaving the agency and families are paying the price,” said Natalie McCalla, a Wrap Around facilitator and unit chair at CUPE 416.  “That’s what this strike vote is about. Nearly every worker at this agency has a second or third job. We work long hours and overtime, taking on stress, just to go to another job to make ends meet. We can’t go on like this.”

To ensure they reach a fair deal, workers signed an open letter earlier this week calling on the board of directors to intervene. The letter detailed long-simmering morale challenges including management’s misguided focus on clearing cases to the detriment of in-depth support. The letter was ignored, resulting in yesterday’s strike vote and an overwhelming mandate.

“We’re trying to ensure our services meet the needs of families. Management seems more concerned with stats and case counts than actually helping,” said McCalla. “We believe in our services. We love our jobs. But we need management to invest in us so we can care for families.”

CUPE 416’s bargaining team is returning to the table for one final scheduled day of negotiations.