Massey Centre employees call for essential service classification

[attach]1982[/attach]The union representing striking Massey Centre for Women employees is calling for the East York centre to be recognized as an essential service under the Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act.

If approved by the Ontario Labour Relations Board, the strike that has been going on since April 21 will be settled by an arbitrator.

The centre’s management met with Local 1 Canada Services Employees International Union representatives before the board on July 7. A decision has not yet been reached.

The act recognizes hospitals and other institutions “operated for the observation, care or treatment of persons afflicted with or suffering from any physical or mental illness, disease or injury or for the observation, care or treatment of convalescent or chronically ill persons.”

The centre provides young parents with services such as residence, daycare, education and counseling. Most of these have been cancelled because of the strike, leaving over 100 mothers and children to look for other options.

Although Massey Centre is not a hospital, it should be recognized as an “other institution” under the HLDAA, said Euan Gibb, a union researcher.

“It’s really about dependence,” Gibb said. “(Centre’s users) are dependent on the work of those workers and the strike has been extremely disruptive for those young women and their lives.”

But the centre’s CEO, Ekua Asabea Blair, said that although Massey Centre is an important service, it is not an essential one.

“We’re not an essential service because we don’t deal with people with physical or debilitating mental health issues,” she said, adding that those who use the centre are capable of independently carrying out day-to-day tasks, such as eating, bathing and cleaning.

Asabea Blair also said the centre is able to maintain some services, including care for 15 people in the postnatal program, without the workers.

Before the disruption, 48 children were in daycare, 23 babies and mothers in the prenatal program and 50 in postnatal.

The strike is largely over salaries. The centre’s employees voluntarily accepted a two-year wage freeze in 2000, but it stretched out for 10 years, said Sharleen Stewart, president of the Canada Services Employees International Union, in a previous interview.

But according to Asabea Blair, salary raises are unaffordable now because the centre runs a deficit each year and has not received an increase in funding from the province, its primary sponsor, for three years.

“We don’t have the money,” she said in a previous interview. “If we had it, we would absolutely pass on those dollars to the staff.”

Both parties are to meet before the labour relations board again. The centre’s management has already brought one witness and is planning to bring forward another one. The union will bring forward a staff nurse as a witness.

At press time, a date before the labour relations board has not yet been scheduled.