The strike at the Massey Centre for Women has left the over 100 mothers and children scrambling to find other childcare and health options.
“It’s just a frustrating and devastating situation for all the parents that use the service of the Massey Centre,” said single mother Nicole Wall, who was using the daycare.
Located at 1102 Broadview Ave., the centre provides services for young parents such as residence, daycare, education and employment counseling, most of which has been canceled because of the labour disruption.
When the strike began on April 21, Wall had to take time off work to while she figured out who could take care of her 1-year-old son, Braylen. She moved him to a new daycare, just after he adjusted to the one at the Massey Centre.
“It was really traumatic for him (Braylen) and really stressful for me not to know what I was going to do,” Wall said who added that she sympathizes with the strikers.
The strike, now in its third week, 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, local president of the Canada Services Employees International Union who represents the striking workers.
Massey Centre CEO Ekua Asabea Blair said raises are unaffordable right now as province, the organization’s main funder, isn’t providing enough money to operate the programs at the present time.
The centre runs a deficit each year and has not received an increase in funding for three years, Asabea Blair said.
“We don’t have the money,” she said. “If we had it, we would absolutely pass on those dollars to the staff.”
Before the strike began, the Massey Centre submitted a request for pay equity funding, which according to their statement to Queen’s Park, they’ve been waiting for seven years.
However, the Ministry of Child and Youth Services could not have answered the request because it would have interfered with the negotiations, said ministry spokesman Peter Spadoni.
“A decision either way would have influenced the outcome of labour negotiations,” he said. “The ministry believes in a collective bargaining process that should be free from interference.”
According to the centre’s statement, the workers began picketing after that.
“It’s time both the government and the employer addresses what these women (workers) have sacrificed voluntarily for 10 years,” Stewart said.
There are talks between both parties, but no meetings, Asabea Blair said.
“We have an offer on the table,” she said. “The only outstanding issue is salaries and we made an offer on that piece.”
Stewart said her members are ready to get back to the table to negotiate.
“The employer didn’t meet (union demands), from my understanding, not even anything that we can start to consider to accept,” she said. “And the government is saying it’s a negotiations issue.”
The workers are not happy to be on strike because they love the work they do, said Aleema Khan, a striking counsellor at the centre.
“We didn’t want to be here (striking), but we had no choice,” she said.
Before the strike, 48 children were in the daycare, 23 babies and mothers in the prenatal program and 50 in the postnatal, Khan said. Most of the women are referred to the centre by social workers.
Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns said he hopes the provincial government will recognize the need for funding at Massey Centre and other child and youth services so the services can be continuous.
“It’s false economy to say you can drive down the money you spend on children and youth and think that you’re going to have a comfortable, safe and just society,” he said.
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