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TORONTO - Workers at Sojourn House, a Toronto shelter that provides a place to sleep, food, and counselling for refugees, went on strike at 12:01 am, yesterday (Thursday). The workers are represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Local 3798-04.

“Even though we have not had a raise since 2001, this strike is not about money,” says Janet Sarpong, a Sojourn House employee and CUPE spokesperson.

“Sojourn House wants to take away many rights that we have had for years. They want to cover vacant positions with a revolving door of relief workers, instead of filling vacancies properly. They want to change our work schedules and they want to get rid of requirements around the posting and awarding of hours of work. They also want to eliminate our meal breaks.

“These are just some of the concessions Sojourn House is demanding,” says Sarpong. “We are not asking a lot but we are not going to go backwards. We have told Sojourn House that this strike will end the minute they drop their demands for take-aways.”

The 25 affected workers are employed as counsellors, cooks, custodians, and drivers. Many of them are “relief” workers who cover emergencies and vacations.

Most of the workers earn $13.89 an hour. Sojourn House is a 24-hour operation.

“We help people who have come here from all over the world, trying to escape persecution and even torture,” says Sarpong. “We are dedicated to the work we do but we also have to stand up for our own rights.”

Picket lines are up at the corner of Shuter and Bond streets downtown between 8 am and 5 pm, Monday through Saturday. Since a church is on the site, the local had decided not to picket on Sundays.

A rally will take place on Monday, July 26th, at 5:00 p.m. at the corner of Shuter and Bond.