Striking workers at the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) are taking to the airwaves with a new radio ad in Toronto. The ad urges the employer back to the table to resolve the strike through negotiations.
Listen to the radio ad:
“We are concerned that the employer has not agreed to a single face-to-face bargaining session since the strike began on March 6th,” said Stacey Connor, president of Local 2073. “Sending ultimatums that it’s our way or the highway, through the mediator, is not the way this strike gets resolved. We need to do the actual work of sitting down for a dialogue about what’s in dispute here.”
“Bargaining involves the parties talking to each other,” said Barbara Wilker-Frey, CUPE National Representative. We hear media reports of CHS spokespeople saying ‘we’re engaged in the process.’ What does that mean, precisely, when we offer seven consecutive days to bargain and we get take-up on not a single one? Having a conversation with the mediator is not bargaining.”
“We are concerned, as employees, that the CHS is losing its way,” said Connor. “We see them pushing the agency in a direction that is not about serving the Deaf, Oral Deaf, Deafened and Hard of Hearing community. We see them ignoring our invitation to bargain in favour of allowing a strike to linger on – that hurts the community. We need them to show respect for the community, and their employees. As we say in our radio ad: hope they are listening.”
The striking workers have been without a contract since 2013. 90% of them are women, and many of them are Deaf. They’ve gone four years without a wage increase. CUPE Local 2073 represents 227 counsellors, literacy instructors, audiologists, speech language pathologists, interpreters/interpreter trainers, clerical support, program coordinators, program assistants, information technology specialists, and other staff at 24 Canadian Hearing Society offices across Ontario.
On the day marking two weeks on the picket line, 227 workers at the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) are asking, “Why won’t our employer come to the table and bargain a settlement?” The two sides have not met since the strike commenced on March 6th.
On Thursday, March 16th, CUPE 2073 President Stacey Connor and CUPE National Representative Barbara Wilker-Frey sent the employer a letter (text included below), offering seven consecutive bargaining dates. The union has received no take-up on the dates offered.
“Everyone knows this strike will end through a negotiated settlement,” said Connor. “It will not get resolved by the parties sniping at each other through the press. It will absolutely not get resolved if the employer is pouring energy into hiring sub-standard replacement workers. It will be resolved through the hard work of talking to each other and bargaining. So why won’t they come back to the table?” asked Connor. “What are they afraid of?”
Wilker-Frey expressed concern over reports that the CHS is boasting of expanding services during the strike through the use of replacement workers. “Use of replacement workers prolongs strikes, makes it harder to get a deal. It also damages the relationship between the parties even more, and makes it so much more difficult to rebuild a climate of trust,” she said. “We urge the CHS to do the right thing and come back to the table. They owe it to their employees, and they owe it to the community of Deaf, Deafened, Oral Deaf and Hard of Hearing clients who need the vital services normally provided by the workers on strike.”
The striking workers have been without a contract since 2013. “Four years without a wage increase, and an employer that tabled a total gutting of our sick leave plan on the eve of our strike deadline,” said Connor. “I’m not suggesting it’s going to be easy to resolve this, but it will be impossible if one party refuses to even put in the work.”
CUPE Local 2073 represents 227 counsellors, literacy instructors, audiologists, speech language pathologists, interpreters/interpreter trainers, clerical support, program coordinators, program assistants, information technology specialists, and other staff at 24 Canadian Hearing Society offices across Ontario.
The text of CUPE’s letter to the CHS, dated Thursday, March 16th, is reproduced here:
Dear Ms. Dumanian, Mr. Andrade and Ms. Keenan:
As we near the end of our second week on strike, we want to reiterate that we remain available to negotiate with you. We want to stress that this strike will be ended by a negotiated settlement – we trust all parties realize that. We hope you are as interested as we are in achieving that soon.
We are available through the weekend of the 18th and the 19th of March.
We are also available:
- Monday, March 20th
- Tuesday, March 21st
- Wednesday, March 22nd
- Thursday, March 23rd
- Friday, March 24th
As you know, we require a bit of advance notice in order to get ASL interpreters to the table with us. In the interest of finding the most expeditious settlement possible, and returning vital services to normal working order, we hope you will find you way back to the table with us on one of these dates.
We look forward to your prompt reply.
CUPE National Representative
President, CUPE Local 2073
c.c.: Marsha Russell, Ministry of Labour
Since March 6th, the workers at the Canadian Hearing Society have been on strike. They are represented by CUPE Local 2073, and work in 24 offices across Ontario. These workers provide vital services to the Deaf, Deafened, Orally Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. Ninety per cent of the strikers are women, and 40% of the membership come from the deaf and hard of hearing community themselves.
The Canadian Hearing Society isn’t telling the truth about the strike. We think it’s important for our community to know the whole story.
1. Why are the workers at CHS on strike?
The decision to strike for a fair deal has been one of the most difficult decisions we have ever had to make. The workers at CHS have dedicated our working lives to advocating for quality services for the Deaf, Deafened, Orally Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. We want nothing more than to get back to work providing the services we care so deeply about.
We have been four years without a contract. That’s four years with no wage increase, no improvement in working conditions, no benefit improvements. Four years watching our working conditions decline and the services offered to this community deteriorate. Four years of increasing disrespect for us and for the clients who rely on us. Four years watching multiple workers and managers from the Deaf community be replaced by workers from the hearing community with no understanding of the culture and needs of this community.
2. The union wants to negotiate
We bargained through the weekend past the legal strike deadline. The night before the strike CUPE presented CHS with a new offer to settle. We indicated through provincially appointed mediators that we are always ready to continue negotiations even if we are on strike.
We still have not received a response to our offer. The CHS does not want to negotiate unless they can dictate the terms. CUPE negotiators are prepared to return to the bargaining table at any time to negotiate a fair settlement and end the strike. We have contacted CHS and the Ministry of Labour a half dozen times since the strike began to request a date to resume negotiations. CHS has not provided a date.
3. The proposed changes to our sick leave plan leave us vulnerable
The CHS is proposing a dramatic gutting of our sick leave plan. Among other proposed changes, they want to contract out our sick leave plan to a third party who would determine somehow whether we should quality for sick benefits. We have been provided few details about the proposed sick plan.
We provide services that break down barriers for people in the Deaf, Deafened, Orally Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community. How can we accept a situation where workers are punished for being ill or injured, and end up in situations where it will be difficult to afford to pay rent, hydro bills or the costs of childcare?
4. Cost of living increases, wages frozen for 4 years
Our wages have been frozen for 4 years, while the cost of living has risen. CHS has offered a mix of zeros, small lump sums, and a tiny increase that does not remotely keep pace with inflation.
The CHS claims they’ve been generous by providing increases to 50% of the staff through increases in the wage grid since 2013. But step increases in the wage grid are not wage increases at all. When you begin a job at CHS you begin at a wage that is far lower than the normal wage rate of staff in the same job. After the initial years, a new worker can catch up to the wage rate of other workers doing the same job by getting annual ‘step’ increases. The CHS is trying to say these increases are wage increases but this is misleading. It is only an increase for new workers because they are hired at a lower rate to begin with. Because about 50% of our dedicated front-line staff have been with CHS for over a decade they are at the top of the grid and therefore their wages have been frozen.
What can you do to help us negotiate a fair deal?
Email CHS CEO Julia Dumanian and CHS Board Chair Timothy Andrade or call CHS [TOLL FREE: 1-877-347-3427 TTY: 1-877-216-7310] and tell them you support the workers at CHS and urge CHS to return to the negotiating table to negotiate a fair deal that respects the workers and the services we deliver.
To follow developments:
Removing barriers for the Deaf, Deafened, Orally Deaf and Hard of Hearing community is a mainstay of the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) mission of inclusivity. But when it comes to its own workforce say striking staff at the agency, CHS is attacking the very sick leave provisions and health benefits originally intended to “break barriers” and help the predominantly female workforce from the deaf and hard of hearing community deal with stressful, demanding work.
“Our work is mentally, emotionally and physically challenging. The sick leave and health plan negotiated over a period of 40 years sustains us. It’s difficult to understand the recent shift in management culture at CHS,” says Stacey Connor, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 2073.
CHS is asking for major rollbacks on sick leave. This includes replacing the existing plan with options that would gut the sick leave plan and have an outside evaluator determine who qualifies for coverage.
“Our work is premised on breaking down barriers for deaf Ontarians to live inclusive lives. For CHS to attack sick leave provisions that enable us – a mostly female workplace with many deaf and hard of hearing employees – to do our jobs, is heart wrenchingly difficult to accept. We are role models in our community. We had no choice but to strike,” says Connor.
227 counsellors, literacy instructors, audiologists, speech language pathologists, interpreters/interpreter trainers, clerical support, program coordinators, program assistants, information technology specialists, and other staff from 24 CHS offices across Ontario, have been on a legal strike since Monday, March 6.
On picket lines throughout the province, strikers are seeing tremendous support from people who rely on CHS services. There is also considerable online support, with many CHS service users clearly expressing concerns about changes at the agency that they view as negative, well before the strike started.
“Those who use our services understand why we are striking. They’ve been posting online about the changes at CHS that they don’t like, for some time now. Their kindness and support means a lot to us. But like us they want to resolve the labour dispute and a new contract,” says Connor.
Through the provincially-appointed mediator, CUPE has made several overtures to CHS “that we are more than willing to go back to the bargaining table this week,” says CUPE national staff Barbara Wilker-Frey. “Despite telling several media outlets they want to return to contract talks, as of Tuesday night, CHS did not respond with a date to resume bargaining. If CHS truly cares about the community which forms the basis of their vision and mission, then they have to come back to the table to negotiate an agreement that allows our front-line workers to return to their work that is so vital for the deaf and hard of hearing communities.”
Lack of respect for the bargaining process has been consistent throughout the contract talks, says Wilker-Frey with the employer team routinely dawdling, wasting time and showing up late to run out the clock on the interpreters who are needed to facilitate talks. “Extended bargaining days are not a reality for this group because of the physical and mental demands required when bargaining with interpretation. We’re not like other bargaining teams and we operate within set bargaining hours. This ensures accessibility and equality for our team, something we thought the employer would respect, but clearly does not,” says Wilker-Frey.
For more information please contact:
Barbara Wilker-Frey,CUPE National Representative, 905-739-3999 x241
Stella Yeadon, CUPE Communications Representative, 416-559-9300
As of Monday, March 6 workers from Canadian Hearing Society offices across Ontario are on strike.
- We have not had a contract for four years
- We have not had a wage increase for four years, while executives’ pay continues to rise
- CHS is demanding major roll backs to our health benefits
- Many of us are Deaf, Oral Deaf, Deafened or Hard of Hearing. Almost 90% of our members are women. Health benefits are of vital importance to us
- We have been trying to reach a deal that works for everyone, but after 40+ years of labour peace CHS refuses to negotiate for a fair deal
To show your support for the members of CUPE 2073 please click here to send a message to Julia Dumanian, CEO of the Canadian Hearing Society.