By Lee Gilchrist
After a five-month strike ending on March 29, unionized workers at the Lennox & Addington Interval House in Napanee, Ontario thought the long, grueling battle was over.
Management and the union’s lawyer hammered out a return-to-work protocol, and the six strikers returned to work on April 29.
Then, management fired each one of them in individual meetings.
Rankandfile.ca spoke with one of the workers on the condition of anonymity. They reported each worker was handed a letter outlining the reasons for their dismissal.
“Mine included accusations of slanderous statements made on social and mainstream media.”
“The letter stated that each of these accused behaviours would be contrary to continued employment with the agency and were in breach of the ethics of the agency.”
What management calls discipline, the worker calls a reprisal.
“Of course it is my belief that these terminations are reprisals for voting to strike, picketing and calling into question the lack of negotiations and settlement of the strike with staff on the part of the management.”
On the picket line
The 5-month strike was not an easy one and the demands were fairly basic.
Increased turnover had led to growing problems of job precarity and staff shortages, with workers picking up full-time hours but getting second-tier wages and no benefits. The pandemic increased workloads and stress.
The workers also wanted contract language guaranteeing the right to union representation in disciplinary meetings.
At the bargaining table, the union was often sitting there alone. Scabs were hired to keep the shelter open. Some crossed picket lines. Others stayed home. Everyone who was fired on April 29 was a committed union picket.
The only picket line incident of note was the removal of the union’s port-a-potty by the local municipality in early January, about 2 months into the strike. The union blamed Napanee Mayor Marg Isbester for the incident, who is known to have a long-standing relationship with the Executive Director Sue Weir.
In response to the incident, the union picketed the homes of LAIH board members, including Isbester and Weir. No disturbances were reported.
After living off strike pay and donations for so long, he fired workers are now appealing for financial assistance. The worker we spoke to had nothing but praise for the scale of support.
“During the strike we had so much community support, and support from other locals, labour unions, and labour councils – we had been able to maintain ourselves for nearly 6 months without work because of the financial support we received.”
Unifor Local 414 is currently challenging the firings and it is expected to go to arbitration.
Donations to support the workers can be directed to:
Unifor Local 414
Attn: Jo-Ann Newell, Secretary-Treasurer
1 – 274 Alliance Road, Milton, ON L9T 2V2
Cheques should be made out to Unifor Local 414