After two weeks on strike, Woodgreen Community Services workers voted 81% in favour of of accepting a new collective agreement.
Founded by the social services arm of the United Church, Woodgreen has been providing social services in east end Toronto for over 70 years and now has over 600 workers in Toronto, most of whom work in Early Childhood Education. Their multi-lingual mostly-female workforce voted to unionize in 2004, joining Workers United Local 154.
After 5 months without a contract, members of Workers United Local 154 went on strike on October 9th. Their demands included part-time staff benefits, improved work conditions, and pay for personal support workers. The ratified agreement included included significant gains in wages and a stronger grievance process.
Though not all of the workers’ demands were met, Workers United Rep Adrienne Naylor says that the local has come out of the process strong and united.
“The workers at Woodgreen have never been on strike before and probably the vast majority of them never thought they would be. The level of solidarity, the number of leaders who emerged during the course of this strike, and the level of support and unity they demonstrated was incredibly inspiring. And the wins that they made here were wholly the result of that, and not out of some benevolence [on the part of the employer].”
With 32 locations, Woodgreen’s workforce is widely dispersed, and the strike provided an unprecedented opportunity for workers to come together, said Naylor. She believes that workers have come out of the strike with greater confidence, and will continue to mobilize around issues such as staffing and benefits for part-timers.
“One thing that I took out of here is that workers from the non-profit and social sector, especially in a context of austerity, are told that they need to suck it up for the good of their clients. And it was incredibly powerful for these workers to identify that their needs were one and the same as their clients and that it was wrong to characterize this as workers not caring about their clients. Both clients and workers benefit from a healthier and safer workplace,” said Naylor.
The strike ended Monday, October 26, after a tentative agreement was reached. The collective agreement was ratified early this morning.
This is the second victory for Ontario Workers’ United locals this month.
Ella is a historian-come-journalist with fickle tastes and strong progressive principles. She has written about labour issues for Dominion.ca and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People. While completing a BA and MA in History and Contemporary Studies, she lived on both Canadian coasts and was proud to take part in several community research and oral history projects. She now lives in Toronto where she enjoys chasing the labour beat, biking, and birding.
Image: Workers United Poster