·  USW@Work magazine, Spring 2022

Community action builds bargaining support

A group of 15 people, mostly women, wearing toques and heavy winter coats, hold placards and picket signs on a town street. There is snow on the ground.There was snow on the ground and cold in the air, but workers were heating up support for their workplace demands as they picketed in the streets of Alexandria, in eastern Ont., in February.

These 70 essential workers from The Palace Alexandria, a long-term care and retirement home, weren’t on strike.

The members of USW Local 9211-14 were sending a message to their employer and a provincial board of arbitration that was meeting to decide the outcome of their collective agreement.

The employer wanted concessions, and the workers fought back.

The Alexandria workers’ demonstration came on the heels of a similar action taken by members of USW Local 6946 last October. They had held a Community Awareness Event in Barry’s Bay, Ont., to demand that their employer, Valley Manor, another long-term care facility, meaningfully engage in the bargaining process.

Members handed out flyers calling on the community to send emails to Valley Manor management, asking for fairness in a new collective agreement, including providing consistent staffing levels and a limit to working five days in a row to address staff fatigue.

“The Valley Manor staff have put in a gruelling effort throughout the pandemic to ensure the vulnerable seniors they care for are protected. Now, it’s time for the employer to recognize their hard work – with a fair deal,” said Briana Broderick, USW spokesperson.

Members saw a dramatic positive shift in the attitude of the employer for the next round of bargaining. Local media also provided positive coverage of the workers’ action.

While the outcome of Local 6946’s collective agreement is outstanding, the binding arbitration process led to a new agreement without any concessions for workers at The Palace in Alexandria.

The solidarity and strength of the members has not gone unnoticed by employers. These events mark a new chapter in labour relations going forward.

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