Homes First peace and quiet last! – By Michelle L. Erstikaitis

April 15, 2013

By Michelle L. Erstikaitis

Since February 18th, former employees have been picketing at 90 Shuter Street, outside of the Homes First administration office. Over 70 employees lost their jobs when their contracts expired, and Homes First has been hiring temp agencies to fill the vacant positions. Instead of updating their résumés, the former employees have been showing up bright and early at 8am, and leaving at lunchtime. The employees of Homes First work on behalf of homeless people by claiming to help the homeless get homes, as well as providing support and assistance. In a telephone interview with Emily Visser, an OPSEU communications administrator, I asked her if she thought that the budget cuts were responsible for the employee contracts not being renewed. “It’s not about money at all” she said. “They’re trying to push the union out of the workplace.” So what? Whether this is true or not, the striking former employees have been a disruptive presence outside of the Homes First administrative office for over four weeks now. When I spoke with a Homes First administrator named Kim, she said that Homes First have called the police on the protestors several times. “I don’t know what they’re trying to accomplish” she remarked. I happen to personally live in the neighborhood where the strike takes place each morning, and I telephoned the police myself one afternoon, during the second week of the protest, because picketers were protesting in the streets, making a traffic accident a strong possibility. I also called the office of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, to report the disruptive group. He telephoned me back several days later and spoke with me about the matter for nearly fifteen minutes. “They shouldn’t be disrupting people” he commented. “I’ll call the police myself and find out what’s going on.” The Mayor is clearly a busy man, because he hasn’t seemed to notice that for the past four weeks, the former employees of Homes First have been protesting outside of City Hall each Friday, from 12 noon until 2pm. I attended one of the protests, and heard such ridiculous slogans as “union busting is disgusting” and “we don’t hate, we just want to negotiate”. Now, having attended several of these protests in person rather than simply view them from my bedroom window, and having spoken with most of the people involved, I must say realistically, if their contracts have expired, then what obligation does Homes First have to these people? Apparently, Homes First feels an obligation. Two days after I became officially involved in investigating the strike and the reasons for it, personally speaking with our Mayor Rob Ford and attending the Homes First workers protest at City hall, a new three year contract was ratified. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the protest was about the homeless, because clearly it was about the workers losing their jobs. With the administrative costs to taxpayers in welfare payments, shelters, drop-in centers and medical services covering the needs of the homeless, what right does the Ontario Public Service Employees Union have to funds that are allegedly budgeted to the homeless? If temp agencies can cut the red tape and the tax trough, while still offering a bunk and meal to the truly legitimate… then so be it! But at least the protests have finally ended, and I can get some peace and quiet in my neighborhood.

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