OPSEU/SEFPO in the news round up: CMHA Cochrane-Timiskaming locks out 147 frontline mental health care workers in below-freezing temperatures

Lockout of CMHA workers puts lives at risk.
Locked out picketers rallied alongside OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick in Timmins this Friday, February 16 to #EndTheLockout.


On Tuesday, February 13, the Canadian Mental Health Association Cochrane-Timiskaming (CMHA-CT) locked out 147 workers from OPSEU/SEFPO Local 631, who provide life-saving mental health and addictions support across northern communities of Timmins, Iroquois Falls, Matheson, Kirkland Lake, Cochrane, and New Liskeard.

The employer has chosen to lock out front-line nurses, clinicians, residential and peer support workers, case managers, and occupational therapists as temperatures drop as low as twenty below freezing with wind chill. Many of these workers have invested decades into their work and are being rewarded with threats of job losses and long-term disability clawbacks in exchange for a pension. Combined with the employer’s insulting wage offer that’s below the rate of inflation, these threatened claw backs make the proposed pension contributions simply unaffordable for members.

Workers deserve to have their contributions recognized with a fair deal, not a lock out. These workers are on the frontlines of the opioid crisis, which has overwhelmed our Northern communities. In fact, Northern Ontario currently face the highest rates of opioid-related deaths in the province. Everyone in the North knows someone affected.

These mental health and addictions workers dedicate their lives to supporting their clients and communities, who will end up paying the price for the decisions of a bully employer. Fighting against these workers is completely misguided and cruel.


A member of Local 631 on the line in Timmins, ON.


Local 631’s picket and fight for a fair contract is gaining local and provincial attention. You can read more about the issue and the workers’ demands below.

CTV News – Northern Ontario

These workers care deeply about their communities; they want to continue providing the support that vulnerable clients need. But their employer would rather demand claw-backs and issue threats than recognize their value.

– OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick

Timmins Press Article

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 631 president Maggie Wakeford says talks broke down over concessions being demanded by the employer. She says management is only offering a three-percent raise, while demanding a four-percent concession to pay for the long-term disability plan, and 6.9% towards pensions.

My Kaphearst Now Article

“Wakeford scoffs at the notion of CMHA managers being able to serve 1,600 clients during the lockout, says the union is willing to return to negotiations, and urges management to make it happen.”

Timmins Press Letter to the Editor

Client safety is being put at risk for what amounts to a minimal cost to the employer…[the CMHA] paid out a 39% salary increase to its Executive Director, Paul Jalbert, between 2020 and 2023. With a ratio of roughly one manager to seven staff, it’s clear CMHA-CT can afford to treat its workers fairly, rather than growing its managerial ranks and financial reserves.

CTV News Northern Ontario Article

“I’ve been here 30 years in October. I’ve never been locked out of my workplace. This is devastating for the members and our clients…Now we have absolutely no access to our clients. So they’re going to take a big hit on this; their mental health is going to suffer and it’s a shame because all we want is a fair contract.”

– OPSEU/SEFPO Local 631 President Maggie Wakeford

Timmins Today

Never in my wildest dreams would I think I would be locked out by my employer…I love the job that we do. The people we serve need us so much, now more than ever since the pandemic, and this is just bad for them.

– Joelle Gauthier, 33 year CMHA- CT employee

North Bay Nuggest Article

“Wakeford said the amalgamation of [the CMHA-CT, South Cochrane Addictions Services, and Minto Counselling Centre] was not ‘ministry-driven,’ but was motivated by the three executive directors’ need to generate more money that is not benefiting all employees, but is being used to give themselves raises.”

“We’ve developed these working relationships with these individuals. Now that it’s gone, how does that impact a client’s family should a crisis arise.”

– Dustin Bayley, Local 631 member

CBC News Article

“Wakeford noted that Jalbert’s own salary has increased significantly since 2019. According to Ontario’s Sunshine List, he made $118,595 that year. In 2022, Jalbert’s salary was $159,158, which represents a 34 per cent increase over three years…While the employees are locked out, Wakeford said she worries for the 1,600 clients who rely on the CMHA Cochrane-Timiskaming.”
My Timmins Now Article

“[OPSEU/SEFPO President JP] Hornick says in the middle of a mental health and opioid crisis, locking out the workers is ‘irresponsible and immoral.'”
My Kaphearst Now Article

“Everybody talks about the increase in mental health issues and we all know, an increase in addiction issues. We need to have an increase in funding from the province, so that we don’t end up fighting this on street corners and people lose, losing possibly their lives.”

– John Vanthof, MPP Timiskaming-Cochrane (NDP)

Mid North Monitor Article

“We just want to be able to afford the same pension they can afford. Paul Jalbert, our executive director, received a $46,000 raise in three years. He’s offering us 2.5 (per cent wage increase) in two years.”

– OPSEU/SEFPO Local 631 President Maggie Wakeford

“They’re paying two other executive directors hefty money so that money is going top heavy instead of where it should be going—to the members.”

– Dustin Bayley, Local 631 member

Timmins Today Article

“We’ve had a lot of clients come to our line, so we definitely hear how that’s affecting them. They are struggling, and they are finding it not as easy to get the support that the management and the employer is offering during our absence. It’s just not enough…They’re not getting the support they need. One individual came back to our line and said that he had trouble with literacy, so he couldn’t read the pamphlet he was given. Another individual was given an option that doesn’t work for him, so unfortunately, the support isn’t being offered to them. We want to get back to supporting them, getting the support that they require. Some individuals may have relapsed with their addictions, some have become homeless, so we want to get back to that.”

– Kelly Brunet, Local 631 communications steward

CBC Sudbury Article

“My fear is, as this lockout continues, I’m not going to be getting the support…I’m going to end up going backwards in my plan, not forward.”

– client at CMHA Cochrane-Timiskaming

“Liznick-Voyer worries about high-risk individuals who might turn to other coping mechanisms, like drugs and alcohol, without regular access to mental health services. ‘People’s lives are at stake and you can’t just shake it off…when you’re in the middle of a crisis, you think you’re alone — you’re in a dark place and you don’t value yourself.'”

– client at CMHA Cochrane-Timiskaming


CMHA-CT is putting lives at risk by locking out workers. They need our support – send a message to Executive Director Paul Jalbert, Board Chair Paul Crombeen, and other leaders telling them to #EndTheLockout and get back to bargaining a fair deal for workers and the clients they support now: https://opseu.org/EndTheLockout/