Lockout of CMHA workers puts northern communities and lives at risk

Timmins, ON – OPSEU/SEFPO has been notified that on Tuesday, February 13 at 12:01 a.m., the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Cochrane-Timiskaming will lock out its workers who provide life-saving mental health and addictions support in several northern Ontario communities.

OPSEU/SEFPO, the union representing members of Local 631 at the CMHA, says lives are at risk as northern communities continue to face the highest rate of opioid deaths in the province.

“These workers care deeply about their communities; they want to continue providing the support that vulnerable clients need,” said OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick. “But their employer would rather demand claw-backs and issue threats than recognize their value.

“In this cost-of-living crisis, CMHA workers are losing ground in the struggle to support their own families,” added Hornick. “They deserve fair wages and working conditions, and their clients deserve excellent care.”

After months of tense bargaining, talks broke down when the CMHA Cochrane-Timiskaming demanded claw-backs to workers’ long-term disability benefits for access to a pension. The 147 workers include front-line nurses, case managers, clinicians, residential and peer support workers and Occupational Therapists in Timmins, Iroquois Falls, Matheson, Kirkland Lake, Cochrane, and New Liskeard.

The union says the employer is using heavy-handed tactics that threaten client safety for what amounts to a minimal cost to the organization.

“We are proud to dedicate our working lives to our clients and communities,” said Maggie Wakeford, President of OPSEU/SEFPO Local 631. “We deserve a fair contract – with access to a pension and long-term disability – not concessions and claw-backs. We simply cannot afford to go backwards.

Local members say it’s not too late for their employer to stop the lockout and get back to the bargaining table. The union is calling on community members to take action by contacting Executive Director Paul Jalbert and the CMHA Cochrane-Timiskaming Board of Directors to demand a fair deal.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” said Wakeford. “Help us get back to work supporting our clients; help us fight for high-quality mental health and addictions services in the Cochrane-Timiskaming area.”