Community Living Tillsonburg avoids pay equity lawsuit

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On Feb. 7, the union representing workers at Community Living Tillsonburg (CLT) threatened legal action over the agency’s "refusal to make pay equity payments as required by law."

CLT owed 232 workers a total of $784,632.23 plus interest, according to the OPSEU media release. The amount owed each individual was dependent on how long they worked at CLT, and it was noted that a number of long-time employees were owed almost $9,000 each.

In a letter, counsel for Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) said the union would take CLT to court unless it payed up by February 15.

“OPSEU will not accept Community Living Tillsonburg’s continued and significant delay to comply with the Pay Equity Act,” the letter said.

The Pay Equity Act, which became law in 1988, requires Ontario employers to identify instances of gender-based wage discrimination and make payments to eliminate it.

In the case of CLT, OPSEU and CLT had agreed to a 60-day payment schedule at a Pay Equity Hearings Tribunal pre-hearing meeting in April 2016. OPSEU noted CLT failed to make any payments and "then informed the union in January 2017 that it would not be doing so."

“It’s not often I see such blatant disregard for the law and such a deliberate undervaluing of both care work and women’s work,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas, in the media release. “It’s time CLT – and all non-compliant employers – realized that pay equity isn’t optional. This is about acknowledging women’s fundamental human right to equal pay for work of equal value. We need to stop treating women like discount labour.”

On Feb. 10, Community Living Tillsonburg officially responded to the lawsuit threat with a letter of their own, stating the Ontario Public Service Employees Union had announced it is moving legally to force Community Living Tillsonburg to pay our unfunded Pay Equity liability.

"Dating back to 2010 (when the Government of Ontario stopped funding Pay Equity) our total outstanding Pay Equity debt at March 31, 2017 is $1,500,000.

"The Government is indicating that we can use funding that was accrued for the purpose of Pay Equity payments. This funding is restricted to our Developmental Services. However, the amount available is less than a third of our total Pay Equity liability and we have no other funds as we are already running a deficit in our childcare services. Both childcare services and developmental services continue to be chronically underfunded by the Government of Ontario. Moreover, to continue to meet Pay Equity requirements over the next 20 years, we would have to find another $20 million or, another $1 million a year.

"We believe that the actions of the Government of Ontario and OPSEU, together, are creating lose-lose proposition both for the people we serve and the employees who provide that service. When the Government abruptly stopped funding Pay Equity, rather than amending its Pay Equity legislation to address its unaffordability, the Government downloaded the obligation to community-based organizations with even less ability to fund it. OPSEU, like the Government, is now seeking a short-sighted solution. Instead of working with CLT to force Ontario to the table and bring about an equitable and affordable and long-term solution, the union, if successful, will compel CLT to cut services, reduce our workforce and sell some of the homes in which people live."

One week later, on Friday, Feb. 17, an official agreement was reached between Community Living Tillsonburg, OPSEU and the Government.

Community Living Tillsonburg CEO Marty Graf announced it would provide its staff with a $1.60 per hour increase for 2017.

"It’s 20 cents an hour per year," Graf noted. "There’s eight years, so we’re now up to $1.60."

The increase was mandated under the Pay Equity Act, and has been enforced by Pay Equity Orders of the Pay Equity Hearings Tribunal. The total of the retro increases to current and former staff is in the range of $1.3 million.

The payouts were scheduled to be made Friday, March 3rd for current employees. In addition, CLT will be providing payments as of March 10th to former employees who were employed at CLT after January 1st, 2010. Unionized employees are represented by OPSEU Local 161.

CLT is expected to self-manage the Pay Equity increase of $412,500 in 2017-18 by finding more efficiencies. As well, going forward, the organization will work with the Government of Ontario to develop the operational plan for 2017-18 to manage the cost increases.

"We found some efficiencies," said Patrick Benoit, memer of the Community Living Tillsonburg board. "There were some funds available… ‘MCSS (Ministry of Community and Social Services) has advised that Community Living Tillsonburg can use the MCSS fund, they were accrued, for pay equity payments.’ And that was approved for release to the pay equity obligation on Friday, February 10th."

That funding amounted to $538,000.

CLT estimates it will achieve full employee Pay Equity in 2040, at an annual cost of $1.5 million, and a cumulative cost of more than $23 million. The Government of Ontario stopped funding CLT for Pay Equity in 2009.

Going forward, further efficiencies will have to be found, said Benoit.

"That’s what they’re telling us," said Benoit, not sure where they would find those efficiencies. "That is yet to be determined."

They would not, however, come from cutting CLT staff, mandated by the Ministry.

"We’re not allowed to cut staff," Benoit noted.

To cover the shortfall, fundraising will need to be ramped up, and Community Living Tillsonburg hopes to hold future events similar to the successful Tribute Show on Feb. 4, which played to a "packed house" with about 250-plus tickets sold.

"It was a great show," said Graf. "We’ll be doing more of those, too."

With the announced hourly raises, finalized the morning of Feb. 17, the threat of a lawsuit was negated. However, there are challenges going forward for CLT and there is much work to be done. Property has been mortgaged.

"If we mortgage property now to meet our pay equity… and we’re in negotiations now with the banks to do that… then the government has said we’re not allowed to cut staff, the union is saying we can’t cut staff… The union, as of last night (Feb. 16) has turned the pressure from Community Living to the government. I feel that is because we have agreed to get on with the pay equity issue. So the union has said, ‘ok, if you are going to do this, we’re going to go there… because if we bring up the level of pay equity, it doesn’t solve the problem. So we go farther into debt by putting mortgages on property, and now we have to pay off that mortgage plus try to keep up with pay equity… So are we going to have to sell property? We don’t know those answers. They say we have to get it through efficiencies.

"It’s very problematic. We can’t close our houses and put people out on the streets. That’s wrong.

"It makes it extremely difficult for Community Living Tillsonburg to proceed forward with this," Benoit summed up. "How are we supposed to raise the funds and not cut staff, or anything of that nature? In the short term, it’s a good thing. It does get the wolves off our back, but in the long term…

"The government is trying to implement a new program, Gender Wage Gap, and that’s their version of Pay Equity. We’re hoping to bridge it… and hopefully that will help to alleviate these issues."

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