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Salvation Army negotiating scare tactics

By Pat Daley, in Straight Goods, Saturday 25 March 2000

Christian organization threatens program closure rather than agree to one percent pay hike for counsellors

LONDON, ON - Friday, March 24: You'd think an organization that tried to make its employees in one part of the country conform to a "Code of Christian Life Style" would act charitably in its negotiations with employees elsewhere. But the Salvation Army has always driven a hard bargain with the people who do its work. Here in London it has let a group of workers walk the picket line for 14 weeks rather than give a wage increase of two per cent over two years.

The Salvation Army's residential and vocational counsellors at London Village, a total of 10 group homes serving 49 adults and children with developmental disabilities, were voting yesterday on whether to accept the SA's latest contract offer and lose 50 permanent jobs or reject it and risk having the whole facility closed permanently.

The 130 members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 153 have been on strike since December 14. Since that time they have won a temporary injunction stopping the SA and its security company, Event Security and Investigations Specialists, from monitoring picket lines; been to the Ontario Labour Relations Board with an unfair labour practices complaint; and rejected a no-wage-increase offer by 86% in a supervised vote demanded by the SA.

Salvation Army labour negotiations sparked heated public debate last summer in British Columbia when 54 members of the British Columbia Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU) were looking for a first contract. They work at Dunsmuir Facilities, which provides men's shelter and programs in the Lower Mainland. The SA wanted employees in its Crosswalk Missionary Team - providing outreach to homeless and other disadvantaged people - to agree to a "Code of Christian Life Style" that BCGEU said would allow an employee to be fired, without the right to a grievance process, for not being a good Christian.

In a statement issued at the time, the Salvation Army suggested that without this commitment from their workers, the services would have to close. Though the SA wanted a negotiated agreement, "it is not prepared to negotiate away the standards of morality that the Canadian public has expected from The Salvation Army and its representatives on the streets of cities in this country for over a hundred years." Nevertheless, when an agreement was finally ratified last October, the life style code was not part of it.

While BCGEU staffer Carol Nielson says the code of conduct demand left the union "quite surprised" given its other dealings with the SA, the threat to close programs is nothing new to the residential and vocational counsellors at London Village.

"In every round of bargaining they threaten to close," says OPSEU staff representative Carol Warner. "It's historical." She says a fax arrived at the union office at 4:30 p.m. last Friday threatening to shut the program unless workers accept the latest offer by the end of today. It was short on details about what would happen to the 49 people now living and learning at London Village facilities.

The union managed to get that deadline extended until noon today. Yesterday, said Local 153 Presidente Diana Smith, the strikers were voting "with a gun to our heads."

The workers started out asking for a 1.5% wage increase in each year of a two-year agreement and payment for mandatory training courses that they currently must take on their own time. On March 3, the day of the supervised vote on the earlier, no-wage-increase SA offer, workers reduced their demand to a one per cent increase in each of two years.

The Salvation Army's latest offer is for a three-year deal with zero increase in the first year, zero in the second year, and one per cent in the third year. More significantly, two group homes and a day program will be closed - resulting in the loss of 50 permanent positions. That's Option A.

Option B - which kicks in if workers reject the offer - is to shut the whole place down. You can check for results of yesterday's vote at www.opseu.org.

Pat Daley is a freelance writer and editor in Athlone in Simcoe County, Ontario.