| Sep 03, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - September 3, 2009 Hillier & Ryan Negotiate Community Living StrikeBy Jeff Green

Randy Hillier & Sid Ryan looking a bit glumfaced at their press conference in Perth last Fiday.

Right and left-wing firebrands Randy Hillier and Sid Ryan found themselves working together last week.

The two held a joint press conference in Perth on Friday August 28 to announce that, partly in response to a request from Hillier, CUPE (the Canadian Union of Public Employees) has suspended picket lines at group homes operated by Community Living - Lanark County.

The pickets had been a feature of a bitter 60-day strike by 91 CUPE members against the not-for-profit agency, which delivers supports to intellectually handicapped individuals in Lanark County.

Ryan, the President of CUPE – Ontario, insisted that the end to picketing does not represent a weakening of CUPE's resolve.

“We simply responded to the request of the MPP and others. Our dispute is with Community Living, not with people living in group homes or their families,” he said.

As for Community Living - Lanark, Ryan asked, “Why is it that 99 of 100 associations for Community Living in Ontario are able to live within the budgets they've received, and this one is unable to do so? That's why we've called for an operational review by the province.”

Ryan also said that a bargaining session held a couple of weeks ago was a waste of time. “We sat there for 13 hours and they had nothing to say, nothing to offer,” he said.

The central issue in the strike is the pension issue, Ryan said, and the proposal that the union has made is similar to ones that have been put in place for other Community Living bargaining units that CUPE represents.

CUPE represents about 60% of the Community Living bargaining units, and OPSEU (the Ontario Public Service Employees Union) represents most of the rest.

Randy Hiller said, “An important concern for myself and a lot of other people is that programs are not being delivered in this situation. There are a considerable number of people who are expecting service and the taxpayer is funding programs and those programs are not being made available to them.”

Both Sid Ryan and Randy Hillier have called for an operational review of Community Living – Lanark.

During an interview that was broadcast last week on the Lake 88 Radio station in Perth, Rick Tutt, the Executive Director of Community Living – Lanark, acknowledged that outreach services have been impacted during the strike, while replacement workers have been hired to work in group homes that the association runs.

However, Tutt denied an allegation made by Sid Ryan that Community Living had refused provincial top up salary money for its employees. And a further allegation that replacement workers were costing five times what the unionized employees are normally paid.

Tutt said that the pension plan that CUPE is demanding could cost Community Living more than CUPE is saying it will, and that the association would not be able to remain within budget if it acceded to union demands. In calling for an operational review of the agency, MPP Hillier said that Tutt had not responded to repeated inquiries from his staff, and had not been available to meet. However at the Press conference last Friday, Hillier said he had been able to arrange for a meeting with Tutt in Perth on Monday (August 31st).

“I’m hoping that meeting will give me a better understanding of Community-Living’s position” Hillier said.

As of Tuesday, there have been no public statements by Hillier since his meeting with Rick Tutt.

The joint press conference in Perth on Friday represented an unprecedented marriage of convenience between Sid Ryan and Randy Hillier.

Ryan has run provincially and federally for the NDP, briefly leaving the provincial party in the early '90s because he said it had moved too far to the right under Bob Rae. In addition to his union work, he has been an outspoken advocate for human rights.

Hillier, widely seen as the most right-wing candidate for leader of the provincial Conservative party earlier this year, called for the elimination of the Ontario Human Rights Commission during the leadership contest.

After the press conference, Hillier sloughed off the differences between him and Ryan. “I was a union member myself when I worked for the federal government,” he said.

Sid Ryan said that both Hillier and himself have a reputation for being outspoken, “So in that sense we are fellow travellers.”

Support local
independant journalism by becoming a patron of the Frontenac News.