CAS workers protest first day of shutdown
Leanne Slaughter thanks her colleagues for showing up to work today.
But at the Hamilton Children's Aid Society, there's no work being done. The doors are locked, the office dark.
Into the mic, CAS worker Slaughter explains to the crowd that they won't be going in – its the first of five days the agency is shutting its doors between now and the end of the fiscal year in March to help balance books in response to a provincial budget cut of $4.7 million over four years.
About 100 child protection workers and supporters from Hamilton CAS and Catholic CAS, Guelph, Peel and Haldimand-Norfolk rallied at the east-end headquarters to stop the cuts.
"What that's meant in this agency is that they've had a significant amount of shortfalls," said Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario, which represents about 250 workers in Hamilton. "In the past, there was a recognition that these services are things you can't predict and they are mandated by law to provide support and protection to children so, if it happens to go over budget, the government needs to cover those costs."
What is concerning child protection workers like Perpetua Chizive is what's not happening when the CAS doors are closed.
"Today, I would have been going to see my families," she said. "I was going to help a new immigrant register her child at school. That's off the table for today. And then going to a medical appointment that we now can't do. We have to re-book both of those and God knows when we will have a chance."
Court dates that were supposed to happen today also had to be cancelled and rescheduled, Hahn told CBC Hamilton. So will family reunions and meetings.
That's how Patricia Reed and Terry Winder-Sholer, both workers who facilitate safe family visits, were planning to spend their days.
Winder-Sholer said the agency is trying to meet its budget targets.
"But even with [the shut down days], they won't even make the money back," Reed added. "It's not the answer to shut down."
In May, Hamilton CAS cut 70 jobs as a result the provincial cuts. Both Reed and Winder-Sholer were victims of that, but Reed said because of their seniority, they were both offered other positions. But both, who formerly provided in-home support to families, took a salary cut, Winder-Sholer said.
To add some perspective, Hahn offered some numbers.
"Here we are this week in the same week when the Auditor General has spoke about $1.1 million wasted on gas plants," Hahn said. "A number of weeks ago, there was also a discussion about the Pan Am Games. The CEO has a base salary of $390,000. That's the exact amount this agency needs to save to not shut for five days."
Hahn and other local CUPE representatives met with Teresa Piruzza, minister of children and youth services, a few months ago. He said she listened intently about the cuts, but they haven't heard from her since.
"We want to tell the Liberal government this is not OK," Chizive said, cradling her sleeping grandchild. "We have to put money back... it's not about the workers, it's about the children. They're the future."
Hahn said he expects similar CAS shut downs to happen in other regions soon. The next one, he said, is in Haldimand-Norfolk.