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Support Canadian Hearing Society workers on strike

By: 
Laura Kaminker and Melissa Graham

April 26, 2017

The 227 members of CUPE Local 2073, Canadian Hearing Society workers, have been on strike since March 6. They have been without a contract — or a salary increase — for four years.

Austerity

Full-time staff has been reduced by almost 30 per cent over three years. In that same time period, the salaries of the president and CEO increased by a shocking 75 per cent.

The Canadian Hearing Society is funded primarily by the Province of Ontario — that is, by taxpayers. Tax dollars that could be used to fund vital services are instead being funnelled into lavish executive salaries.

The services these CUPE workers provide are vital, including, sign-language interpretation, social and community support, assistance for newcomers, counseling and audiology assistance.

The community has been shocked to learn that staff cutbacks and salary freezes coincide with outrageous executive salaries. In a recent CBC story, George Postlethwait Jr., president of the Ontario Association of the Deaf, called the steep increase in top executive salaries “a slap in the face to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.”

Canadian Hearing Society CEO Julia Dumanian earned almost $269,000 in 2016, $115,000 more than her predecessor earned in 2013. Dumanian was appointed CEO in 2015, after being fired from her previous position at Cambridge Memorial Hospital for “outstanding and ongoing governance and management matters,” according to then-minister of health David Caplan. Dumanian has declined to speak to the media and has made no public statements about the strike.

Disability

This team is in an unusual position, in that much of its membership requires the same accessibility that they provide to the community. The services they provide to the D/deaf and hard of hearing community, are needed by many employees as well. This provides a unique perspective on the impact of the strike, but also impacts the bargaining process.

According to the CUPE 2073 website, the employer has shown a lack of regard for this accessibility requirement. “ [A] lack of respect for the bargaining process has been consistent throughout the contract talks with the employer team routinely dawdling, wasting time and showing up late to run out the clock on the interpreters who are needed to facilitate talks. Extended bargaining days are not a reality for this group because of the physical and mental demands required when bargaining with interpretation. We’re not like other bargaining teams and we operate within set bargaining hours. This ensures accessibility and equality for our team, something we thought the employer would respect, but clearly does not,” says CUPE national staff Barbara Wilker-Frey.

“For CHS to attack sick leave provisions that enable us – a mostly female workplace with many deaf and hard of hearing employees – to do our jobs, is heart wrenchingly difficult to accept. We are role models in our community. We had no choice but to strike,” says Stacey Connor, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 2073.

Many members of CUPE 2073 were not involved in their union prior to the recent actions of the employer. The access of the employees left many feeling excluded from the labour movement, until recently. The solidarity shown by other workers, unions, and the community is having an impact, and changing some perspectives on accessibility within labour struggle.

Solidarity

The members of CUPE 2073 are standing strong, fighting for a fair deal for themselves and quality services for the people who use their services. They need our support. Picket lines are active in 21 Ontario locations, and donations to the strike fund are greatly needed.

See the CUPE Ontario website for picket locations and times, and where you can send donations.

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