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On strike: CAS workers in Ottawa say their strike is a last-ditch effort to maintain services and staff

On strike: CAS workers in Ottawa say their strike is a last-ditch effort to maintain services and staff
On strike: CAS workers in Ottawa say their strike is a last-ditch effort to maintain services and staff

Loud music, whistles and honking were heard around Telesat Crescent on Tuesday, where a strike by workers at the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa entered its second day.

More protesters were seen at the intersection of Blair and Meadowbrook.

CAS is part of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). They are asking the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services to stop layoffs and for better wages.

After nine months of negotiations, the parties failed to reach a collective agreement. When a strike was voted on in March, 85 percent of members voted in favor.

Michele Thorn is an adoption worker and union president of OPSEU local 454. She said CAS used to have more than 400 employees in Ottawa. Now it has 320, and the province has said it plans to lay off another 20.

Thorn said the staff reductions happened gradually over the years.

“They’ve done it more out of exhaustion. People have left and they haven’t replaced them.”

Thorn says the ministry is keeping the CAS budget deficit under control by implementing cuts.

“The ministry’s funding continues to decline, but they continue to raise expectations… so people are expected to do more with fewer employees.”

Employees are already crumbling. After they are done for the day, they have no energy left for their own families, they often miss time with their own families because they are working overtime to keep up.

Michele Thorn, adoption worker and union president of OPSEU Local 454

Thorn said CAS has seen a 30 percent decline in the number of children in child care over the past five years, which in turn has led to a reduction in funding, which she said has perpetuated the shortages.

“The union negotiating team waited for the employer to get back to us. We have not heard from them and they know we are waiting.”

She says the work stress CAS workers are already experiencing will only increase as more people are laid off.

“Employees are already crumbling. After they are done for the day, they have no energy left for their own families, they often miss time with their own families because they are working overtime to keep up.

“They don’t have time. They do the bare bones, they take their time, they’re late doing things, they have a list of things they have to do.”

This has resulted in a lower quality of service for those who rely on CAS services.

Kimberly Johnson works with Indigenous children in her role at CAS. (Photo @ Audrey Gunn

According to Thorn, the problem is bigger than CAS.

“(The government) doesn’t fund other social services properly. So our families that we work with don’t have resources because there’s just not enough for everybody. We used to be able to connect families with resources, but now we’re struggling to even do that,” Thorn said.

“We have employees … talking about leave. They’re burning out, but they don’t want to leave because they know they’re leaving their work for people who are already struggling.”

Thorn said the strike was a last resort.

Julia Dundas is a children’s and youth councillor for CAS. She said she worries about the people she works with.

“It’s really annoying to strike because we would much rather work with our children and families. I’m really worried about my families and my children.”

“We need more funding. We need to be able to help our children and families. They are really suffering right now.”

Thorn said CAS employees find meaning in their work and want to serve the community as best they can.

“People love their jobs. They love the work they can do when they can do it.”