Homes First workers in Toronto on strike

“These hard-working people are already earning a very modest wage but who find themselves bullied by a hostile employer. It’s a measure of their anger that they’ve elected to withdraw their services.” - Kathleen Demareski, OPSEU Negotiator.

Toronto (19 Feb. 2013) -  Angered and frustrated by management’s outright refusal to bargain a fair and reasonable collective agreement, 70 workers at the Homes First Society went on strike on February 18.

“The arrogance displayed by this employer is disgraceful,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE). “The workers need to know they have the full support and resources of our union behind them every step of the way.”

“There’s a bitter irony that our members will be setting up picket lines on Family Day,” said Kathleen Demareski, an OPSEU Negotiator. “These hard-working people are already earning a very modest wage but who find themselves bullied by a hostile employer. It’s a measure of their anger that they’ve elected to withdraw their services.”

Despite receiving more than $6 million in annual funding from the City of Toronto, labour relations at Homes First have been toxic for years. Grievances have been filed about employee mistreatment and human rights violations and, most recently, management hired security guards at four locations in a defiant act of intimidation. Outside replacement workers have been hired even though they only duplicate the work of regular staff.

The union is calling on Toronto city council to take action by directing management to return to the bargaining table. Eight city councillors have a Homes First location in their ward but, to date, none have taken action on behalf of the clients or staff at the housing agency. Homes First has been riddled with accusations of financial mismanagement for years, which includes the creation of several new management positions and for giving managers raises and increased benefits. The publicly-funded agency also refuses to open its books to public scrutiny.

“It’s time city hall stepped in and told the board of directors and management at Homes First that they get serious about its financial accountability and bargaining a fair contract,” said Demareski.

Homes First employees work with more than 500 low-income tenants in shelters and homes in an effort to secure them with permanent housing.

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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