Peel CAS strike drags into 9th week with no end in sight
Agency refuses union’s call for binding arbitration in nine-week strike.
Striking Peel Children’s Aid Society workers are in their ninth week on the picket line with no resolution in sight after the agency rejected the union’s call to send outstanding issues to binding arbitration.
“Peel CAS’s refusal to consider what we believe is the best solution to this impasse calls into question both their motivation for prolonging this strike, as well as their commitment to the families we serve,” said intake worker Sonia Yung, president of CUPE local 4914.
The union, which represents 435 members in Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon, requested binding arbitration on Monday. The workers walked out Sept. 18 over issues of personal safety and workload.
In an open letter to employees, Peel Children’s Aid Society CEO Rav Bains said the agency would not agree to arbitration “at this time” because it would force a resolution on unionized staff.
“We believe it is important that those who actually work at our agency come to an agreement on the terms and conditions of employment, rather than having a third-party impose them,” he said in the letter posted on the agency’s website Monday. “Arbitration removes your opportunity to have a say on your own collective agreement.”
But CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn dismissed Bains’ concern for workers.
“If Peel CAS feels so strongly that their position on the outstanding issues is the right one, then they shouldn’t be afraid to put that position before a neutral third party for arbitration,” Hahn said in a statement.
At a membership meeting Wednesday, workers overwhelmingly rejected a motion to vote on the agency’s final offer mailed to workers on Oct. 26. Of 325 members at the meeting, 95 per cent voted against the motion, Jung said.
As a result of the strike, the agency’s 120 non-unionized supervisors and managers, along with about 80 replacement workers from other agencies, have been handling only “essential services,” including investigations involving children at risk of abuse or neglect, court appearances and supporting families with open files.
A 2014 study on workplace safety by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies found that 27 per cent of child protection workers had experienced assault while 45 per cent reported a threat to themselves or their families.
The union wanted their agency to accept the report and agree to implement its 46 recommendations to reduce workers’ exposure to physical and emotional harm. However Peel CAS said it couldn’t agree to the union’s demand because the Ontario association is still working with the ministry on final recommendations for the field.
The issue was resolved last month when both sides agreed to wait for the Ontario association’s final recommendations and allow the Peel agency’s joint health and safety committee to advise senior management on implementation.
The issue of legal support for front-line staff involved in civil and criminal cases has also been settled. However workload issues remain.
Yung said most children’s aid societies set a caseload cap. But in Peel, caseloads range from between 14 to 17 new cases per month with no cap.
“I have seen my colleagues having to juggle as many as 30 (cases) when new cases are added to the ongoing case files,” Yung said in an interview.
By contrast, the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto sets a range of between nine and 12 new cases per month with a cap of no more than 16 active cases at any time, Yung said.
The union wants Peel to reduce the number of new cases to 16 in any 30-day period in addition to any ongoing cases.
“We believe our proposal is quite reasonable,” she said.
The agency has rejected it as “unmanageable.”