LETTER: Ask us why we voted NO!

LETTER: Ask us why we voted NO!
Photo submitted- OPSEU/SEFPO

Ask us why we voted NO! one picket sign read at a recent rally in Timmins, ON to support workers locked out by the Canadian Mental Health Association Cochrane-Timiskaming (CMHA-CT).

 If you pass by familiar faces in Timmins, Iroquois Falls, Matheson, Kirkland Lake, Cochrane, and New Liskeard holding picket signs out in the snow, you might ask why we’re braving below freezing temperatures for hours on end. It’s not by choice – last Tuesday, February 13th, our employer decided to lock us out rather than bargain a fair contract.

 We are members of OPSEU/SEFPO Local 631; we’re also mental health nurses, clinicians, occupational therapists, and case managers. We work on the frontlines of concurrent mental health and opioid crises that have overwhelmed our northern communities. Some of us have been here for over 30 years, approaching retirement. Echoing John Vanthof, Timiskaming-Cochrane MPP, who rallied with us on Friday, we’ve been forced into a lockout instead of doing the jobs we love and that our communities need us to do. The roughly 1600 clients we serve need us in a way that has only deepened with the COVID-19 pandemic; they’re paying the price for a bully employer that claims its mission is to provide “supports and services” for those “living with, and touched by, mental illness.”

Our work is critical to our northern communities and clients, and we want to get back to it. Northern Ontario has been hit hardest by the opioid and mental health crisis - in 2022, Timmins ranked fourth amongst the five cities with the highest opioid mortality rates provincially. We’re already seeing the effects of this lockout on amplifying crisis in our communities. But we’re also struggling to get by. We can’t afford to accept clawbacks and concessions. We can’t move backwards, and we shouldn’t have to.


 Our employer, the CMHA Cochrane-Timiskaming, can afford to treat us and our clients better. Unfortunately, they have chosen to prioritize big salary boosts for top management instead of putting clients and workers first. Since 2020, Executive Director Paul Jalbert’s own salary has skyrocketed by 39%, jumping from $119,223.71 to $165,735.17 – that’s more than $46,000 dollars in just a few years. With this latest offer, management is trying to protect their pockets from absorbing the cost of rolling everyone into the pension, leaving workers to foot the bill.


We want a good pension plan, but not at the cost of skimmed wages. We can’t afford the employer’s proposed clawbacks – it’s why we voted 87% in favour of rejecting them when the employer pushed a forced “final” offer vote on us. We can’t afford an offer that would also compel our workforce, a significant portion of which is aging into seniority, to newly start paying part of their wages into their Long-Term Disability (LTD).


Following the employer’s forced offer vote, our bargaining team came back to the table once more, ready to close on a fair deal - without the clawbacks. The employer met us with a minimally revised offer, but remained adamant that we pay would have part of our wages clawed back into LTD. When we reiterated that we couldn’t afford it, they locked us out.

 Despite this employer’s nasty attempt to muddy the waters, our members have actually seen their latest offer – because management made sure to email it to them. The resounding feeling remains that we have yet to see a fair contract before us.

 Earlier this year, the CMHA-CT expanded dramatically through the absorption of Minto Counselling Services and South Cochrane Addiction Services. Under the rejected offer, members merging over to CMHA would:

  • Start paying 100% into their long-term disability, a jump from 25%.
  • Lose 5 days of vacation for those with less than 4 years of service.
  • Lose access to benefits if they worked 30 hours/week.
  • Be placed lower on the wage grid, irrespective of their years served.
  • Experience a new cap on vacation pay – a net loss.

 The employer’s offer is a two-tiered contract that would have created new inequities for our membership. We need to protect the gains we have fought for in the past – we can’t afford concessions, or to go backwards. Instead of whopping executive salary increases, the CMHA-CT’s funds would be better spent recognizing frontline workers with the fair wages and working conditions we deserve.

 No one knows solidarity like us northerns – we need each other to survive. If the employer thinks they can divide and conquer us, they have another thing coming. Even more importantly, we’re not alone in this fight. Community far and wide stands behind us; in our first week of pickets, we were joined by striking municipal workers of Black River-Matheson, members of CUPE 1490, the Ontario Nurses Association, as well as OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick and allies that travelled all the way from southern Ontario. As workers, we’re united in saying no to clawbacks and concessions - and we’re going to win this, together.

 CMHA Cochrane-Timiskaming can end this lockout at any time – all we ask is that they put forward a fair deal that doesn’t skim from members to cut corners for management’s benefit.

Maggie Wakeford Local 631 President

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