Family and Children's Services workers strike in Guelph
Support continues for children in crisis, but non-essential services are cancelled
Support workers with Family and Children's Services in Guelph and Wellington are on strike after they rejected management's final offer over the weekend.
They sat down at the table and said, 'Management is not prepared to budge.'- Cathy Thomas, CUPE 4325
Non-unionized staff will perform all essential services, according to executive director Sheila Markle, but all non-essential services have been cancelled.
"Our front line staff deliver valuable services to families in our community," Markle said. "I think we all agree that we want them back to work as soon as possible, for sure, but, you know, with these kinds of situations it's hard to know."
The workers, who are represented by CUPE 4325, have been without a contract since March 31, 2015. They rejected management's initial contract offer in January, and then rejected a final offer on Wednesday, April 6.
Union representative Cathy Thomas said management isn't willing to compromise when it comes to wages or job security.
We certainly feel we've done the best that we can and they're asking for something that's just not affordable.- Sheila Markle, Family and Children's Services
"They sat down at the table and said, 'Management is not prepared to budge,'" she said. "That was the very first comment that started the full day of mediation."
Since rejecting management's final offer, Thomas said the union has repeatedly offered to return to the bargaining table. However, management said in a press release that it would not meet the union until "we see a meaningful commitment that CUPE Local 4325 is ready to achieve a resolution."
"There has to be some give on their part, and a true willingness to find a solution," Markle said. "We've tried to have those conversations and it doesn't appear at this point that there's any desire to move from their position."
Markle said management is limited in what it can offer workers, as it has one of the smallest FCS budgets in the province and is prohibited by law from running a deficit.
"Our budget is less today than it was 10 years ago, and there are not a lot of child welfare agencies that can say that. So, we have steadily trying to do more with less," she said.
"I think we've tried to explain that those limitations are very real... We certainly feel we've done the best that we can and they're asking for something that's just not affordable."
But the union argues that despite limited funding, members of management have been giving themselves raises, while front line workers haven't seen a raise in two years.
"The province gave each agency a five year forecast of how much money they'd be getting," Thomas said. "Why would you do that when you knew what our funding would be."
Service disruptions are expected during the strike, as management and non-unionized staff will only have capacity to respond to situations where a child is at risk.
Non-essential services, such as attending meetings or connecting families with community supports, have been cancelled.
In addition, FCS has closed its offices on Shelldale Crescent in Guelph and Wellington Road 7 in Elora.