People with addictions, mental illness will suffer if dozens of highly experienced workers laid off

“If she doesn’t change course, she’ll be marching some of the organization’s best talent, expertise, and know-how right out the door." — Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President

Kingston (05 April 2019) — Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE), is urging the temporary supervisor of Addiction and Mental Health Services-Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington to reconsider her plan to lay off dozens of highly experienced addictions and mental health workers.

Supervisor unilaterally changing job requirements

“I think the supervisor’s heart is in the right place, but she’s making a classic rookie mistake: throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” said Thomas. “If she doesn’t change course, she’ll be marching some of the organization’s best talent, expertise, and know-how right out the door."

“And you know who will pay the price? The people suffering addiction and mental illness who the organization is supposed to help," he said.

Appointed less than 6 months ago to a one-year term, the supervisor has unilaterally decided that a majority of the organization’s addictions and mental health workers must have university degrees. She’s issued layoff notices to nearly 65 workers who have years of experience, and who may not be able to transfer to a new job because they don’t have a degree.

Experience key to working with people with addictions and mental illness

“Clearly, a university education is a good thing. But it’s not the only thing,” said Thomas. “I’m a mental health worker, and I’ll tell you this: you learn just as much on the job as you ever could in a classroom. The workers she wants to lay off have spent years getting to know their clients and figuring out the best way to support them."

“Getting rid of them just because they don’t have a piece of paper or a couple letters behind their name is a terrible, terrible waste," he said.

Cuts will hurt most vulnerable

Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer, says it’s hard to believe the supervisor’s claim that clients won’t notice a difference.

“She’s laying off 42 full-timers and replacing them with 30 full-timers — that’s a 25 per cent cut!” said Almeida. “No matter how you slice it, a cut that big is going to hurt the people who need support with their addiction or mental illness.”

Easy solution

Thomas said it’s not too late for the supervisor to do the right thing — all she has to do is grandparent the existing workers so they don’t have to have a degree to keep the jobs they’re already doing well."

“If she wants to insist that most of the new hires have a degree, that’s fine,” said Thomas. “But we’re urging her not to hurt the clients by laying off the workers that they’ve grown to like and trust.”

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 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