Anybody Listening? Canadian Hearing Society on Strike

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As of today, Local 2073 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 2073), are in a legal strike position. The Local represents 227 employees throughout the province employed with the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) and includes interpreters/interpreter trainers, counsellors, literacy instructors, audiologists, speech language pathologists, clerical support, program coordinators, program assistants, information technology specialists and other staff. About 70 staff in Northern Ontario are affected by the strike but at the time of this report the number of service users affected is unknown.

For 4 years, Local 2073 has not had the assurance of a collective agreement and have seen no wage increase. And according to Matthew Stella, CUPE National Communication Representative, “that’s just too long”.

“It might be a year that an organization goes without a collective agreement, but four years is a very long time,” remarked Stella.

The Local is looking for a retroactive agreement that catches up working conditions to present day. From that point forward the Local aims to negotiate a contract from today onwards. Commented Stella, “What we’re trying to do is negotiate an agreement that takes us up to the present and then negotiate the next contract that establishes terms moving forward. In this negotiation we’re trying to put the past 4 years behind us but the employer is asking for some major concessions to health benefits –and that’s where the sticking point is.”

Local 2073 reps and the employer entered negotiations last night and resumed this morning. Stella believes this is a good omen.

“Negotiations today were not scheduled. So in this situation they’re probably negotiating but we’re not privy to those details. It’s a pretty fluid process.”

Stella also went on to add that this Local’s negotiation process presented some exceptional –and equitable, challenges. “Because of the population involved, there are members on the local bargaining committee for Local 2073 who are deaf or hard of hearing. So they need to bargain with an interpreter. And there’s only two interpreters and they have to trade off every 20 minutes and they are limited to an 8 hour work day with breaks. So in any other situation, especially if you have some momentum, like last night, I would imagine if the necessity of having interpreters around the table wasn’t there, they would have gone all night. We often see, especially at the eleventh hour, a deal at 2 or 3 in the morning after a marathon bargaining session. That is not possible with this Local.”

Billie Skevington is a culturally deaf woman. She has had some experience working with organizations for the Deaf in B.C. and since relocating to Northern Ontario, has some thoughts to share about the operations of CHS. She is critical of management stating, “They now work on cutting back wages, sick days and no union for newer employees and more. The Canadian Hearing Society have lost their vision, their purpose and their mandate for their organizations. So many deaf people are betrayed by the Canadian Hearing Society.”

Skevingtion goes a bit deeper into these issues in an upcoming piece to be published this week on the Northern Hoot.

When asked what the gains could be for CHS service users if a successful negotiation is achieved Stella remarked, “I think in situations like this when workers play such a vital role in helping their services users with basic equality in situations like communication, employment and health services, that it’s necessary to have a happy and healthy workforce –one that doesn’t fall behind or where people start looking for other sources of employment. What you see with this workforce is that they are very dedicated to what they do. They just want to get the respect from the employer that they feel they earned for their work. They want to put the past four years in the past and just move forward.”

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