Striking L&A Interval House staff say staffing, representation at the heart of labour dispute

Staff picket outside L&A Interval House as part of a five month long strike that began in October. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

Adam Prudhomme

Lennox and Addington Interval House staff continues to strike as negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement remain at a stand still.

About 20 union staff workers began work action just after 2 p.m. on Friday. Staff members, represented by Unifor Local 414, have been picketing outside the Napanee women’s shelter since then.

“Our previous agreement expired in 2019 and it sort of rolled over for a year as we began negotiation about a year ago,” said Brooke Phillips, who has worked at the shelter since 2008 and is a member of the negotiation team. “From the outset of negotiation we struggled with the employer to be on the same page about a lot of language issues including representation of the union. Some of the main things we’ve asked for is a process of progressive discipline, which isn’t currently in place and ensuring that there is union representation at any sort of disciplinary or accommodation for return to work meeting. At this point it isn’t practice that the union reps would be informed about that happening so they don’t have an opportunity to attend and nor does the employee know that that’s necessarily the meeting that they’re attending.”

Phillips says understaffing has also been an issue.

“We have struggled for a long time with having vacant positions that haven’t been filled,” said Phillips. “If somebody vacates their position, whether it’s permanently vacated or that it is intermittently vacated because they take leave of absence or what have you, those go unfilled and often the duties are reassigned to other staff and we take those on typically because we don’t want the residents or clients to feel the effects of us being short-staffed. So often we’re working sort of outside of our usual positions just to make sure that the residents are well cared for or the positions are filled with relief staff and they’re often working fulltime hours without the addition of benefits or accruing vacation time or sick time. They are paid at a lesser rate than the fulltime staff because their intention is to be those short term vacation or sick time fill in folks, rather than a full time staff member.”

Phillips says the staff has also been operating without a COVID-19 safety plan.

“A lot of the language and issues that we’ve put forward to the employer at L&A Interval House is verbatim the language that is in the collective agreement that is currently in place at Kingston Interval House,” said Phillips. “We are represented by the same union, we took a look at their agreement and there was a number of things that would benefit our staff team by having it added to our collective agreement. We’re not comparing apples and oranges, we’re comparing apples and apples. These are the same industry a half an hour away from each other and they have vastly different collective agreements. The funding comes from the same places and so it’s hard to believe we haven’t been able to move closer to that agreement since it’s already in place and functioning at a sister agency.”

With staff on strike, management has taken over running the shelter. Phillips says the staff delayed their job action for 10 days in hopes of reaching a deal, but says staff now feel management used that time to develop a contingency plan for when they went on strike.

“It was a very emotional decision to make. But we felt sort of up against the wall that if we didn’t take a stand that it was going to continue to be a pretty toxic and unsupportive workplace. With the type of work we do our well-being is paramount for us to be able to offer effective service,” said Phillips. “We want to get back to work as soon as we can. Everybody gets into this job because it’s meaningful to them and very little of our negotiation had anything to do with compensation it was mostly about making sure we had some job security, that we had representation and that we weren’t, as a feminist organization, working our teammates at fulltime hours with none of the benefits that other staff enjoy.”

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