By allowing the latest and best chance of a deal with workers to slip through their fingers, negotiators for Nipissing and Parry Sound Children’s Aid Society are increasing the likelihood of a tragedy among vulnerable children and youth, said a representative of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents the society’s 140 locked-out employees.

The declaration was made by CUPE Social Services coordinator Bev Patchell, who led the union in bargaining until talks broke down around 11 p.m. last night.

After weeks of activism by locked-out members of CUPE 2049, the union had suggested a return to the bargaining table in a bid to end the lockout that began almost 11 weeks ago. Despite the union’s best efforts to reach a deal, the society’s rigid approach to negotiations means that the lockout that it initiated in December will continue.

“The union brought forward two different alternatives, hoping to resolve the labour dispute, but the society’s uncompromising stance in bargaining remained the same. At this point, its inflexibility is quite literally endangering the lives of children and youth in the north,” said Patchell, a negotiator for the union.

“A wide variety of sources in the community tells us that child protection services in Nipissing and Parry Sound are in a woeful state. The employer’s negotiators must know it too; yet they remain unmoved in their position.”

Patchell noted that every day on the picket line, locked-out child protection workers hear heartbreaking stories about the plight of families whose adoptions are in limbo; the distress of mothers who haven’t been able to see their newborn babies in weeks; and the desperation of foster parents who find themselves overburdened and unsupported in the vital work they do. 

“My colleagues and I are disappointed for ourselves and afraid for the families we serve. We came back to bargaining with high hopes, because we believed there was an excellent chance of a breakthrough,” said Debbie Hill, president of CUPE 2049.

“We know we have great support inside and outside the union for our proposals, because they ensure that we can keep children safe, but we recognize the society’s issues too,” she continued.

“So we prepared and presented an offer that addresses both parties’ concerns, and we did this solely in the hope of reaching an agreement that would end the lockout.”

Hill pointed out that Nipissing and Parry Sound CAS could have ended the lockout “if its directors were the least bit interested in negotiating with us. But time after time, they have shown their preference is to make demands and ultimatums.”

The union is now considering other strategies to bring an end to the lockout and “we won’t be quiet about it anymore,” concluded Hill.