Strong solidarity and enormous political pressure caused the Nipissing and Parry Sound Children’s Aid Society (CAS) to make an eleventh-hour decision to end the labour dispute it began four months ago.

On Friday afternoon, the society’s executive director signed the return-to-work protocol provided by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and agreed to enter into binding arbitration.

The society made this latest move in the face of overwhelming solidarity among the workers it locked out four months ago; the strong community support they enjoyed; and their decision to take strike action in response to the draconian terms and conditions that the CAS wanted to impose in return for lifting the lockout.

The agreed return-to-work protocol will see workers back on the job on Monday morning, April 24.

For the past month, CUPE had been calling for a takeover of the agency by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services in light of CAS negotiators’ unwillingness to commit to an arbitrated settlement of the dispute.

CUPE, provincial mediators, and the provincial government were all in agreement about the need to resolve outstanding issues and reach a new collective agreement through binding arbitration.

“Throughout the four months of this lockout, CUPE members have always had two goals in their sights: reaching a fair collective agreement for unionized workers at Nipissing and Parry Sound CAS and restoring high-quality child protection services in the region,” said CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn.

“After nearly a year of throwing up needless obstacles to bargaining and after months spent depriving northern communities of the child welfare services they deserve, the agency has finally relented and – workers hope – has decided to commit itself to those goals too.

“As our members return to the jobs that they love, we’ll continue supporting them to ensure they can do so in a way that respects their skills and their commitment to their communities,” Hahn concluded.

The terms that Nipissing and Parry Sound CAS had attached to lifting the lockout eliminated recognition of the union, the grievance procedure, and workers’ recourse to arbitration, among other conditions.

“CUPE members are thrilled that their solidarity paid off and at the prospect of returning to work on Monday. It has been a grueling four months on the picket line, but we couldn’t have made it through without the support we had from the community, from our union, and from other union activists, or without the incredible strength and solidarity of our members,” said Debbie Hill, president of CUPE 2049, which represents workers at Nipissing and Parry Sound CAS.