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CMHA workers demand external investigation to address toxic workplace

St Thomas – Staff at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Elgin branch held an info picket this afternoon in response to harassment by upper management in their workplace.

“Whether it’s health and safety or other concerns, CMHA Elgin staff are being harassed, disciplined, and fired for trying to speak up,” said Carol Warner, Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) staff representative. “These staff, who provide care to our community’s most vulnerable individuals – some of whom are in mental health crises – are now facing their own mental health crises, and they’ve chosen to break the silence.”

For years, staff have attempted to improve their workplace conditions through internal processes, such as filing grievances. But these attempts have been rebuffed and often met with hostility by management. The employer consistently uses stall tactics to avoid addressing workers’ concerns.

“The employer knows they are in the wrong,” said Tischa Forster, president of OPSEU Local 133. “Instead of working to find solutions, they are ready to fire workers and pay them out, knowing they can impose gag orders and silence them from speaking up. Because of this, the employer is never held responsible, and the workplace harassment continues unchecked. This is not healthy or sustainable.”  

In recent years, residents in St. Thomas and communities across southwestern Ontario have been hard hit by the loss of jobs and homes, and demand for mental health services has been on the rise. Employees at the CMHA Elgin are working to keep up with clients’ needs, while faced with internal organizational turmoil.    

“Having worked in the mental health sector my entire professional career, I can attest to the fact that frontline workers have enough obstacles, without unnecessary ones imposed by management,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “We know that workers must be healthy in order to take the best possible care of their clients.

“The Board of Directors and the Executive Director Heather DeBruyn must show their commitment to mental health by agreeing to bring in a neutral third-party investigator,” said Thomas. “Toxic workplaces can be fixed, but management must participate in good faith in that investigation and make it possible for staff to participate in it as well.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931; Ed Arvelin, chair of OPSEU’s Mental Health Division, 807-628-9187; Carol Warner, OPSEU staff representative, 519-319-1736