On Friday, March 13, the Town of Whitby laid off 210 part-time staff, members of CUPE Local 53. Unlike neighbouring municipalities, like Pickering, Clarington, Uxbridge, and Ajax, where city workers were paid for between two and three weeks when layoffs were still considered temporary, Whitby’s part-time workers were left with no compensation.

“If the town provided the three-weeks worth of wages, it would give us the opportunity to plan ahead,” said Alannah McIsaac, part-time Vice-President of Local 53. “People think part-time workers are kids or students, but about 50 per cent of our members are adults. It’s a stressful time for everybody and the financial burden that’s been put on us with this sudden decision to be laid off without pay isn’t right.”

McIsaac points out that it was only the part-time city workers who were laid off. Also, 63 per cent of the part-time city workers may not have normally been eligible for Employment Insurance benefits and that they will need to claim the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which provides $2,000/month for four months to people impacted by the pandemic.

“So many people across the province are in the same boat as these Whitby part-time city workers, worried about rent and mortgages, about putting food on the table, and about securing their quality of life in the future,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. “During these challenging times it’s inspiring to see our members finding creative ways to resist on the ground in communities. We’ll keep calling on the Province to take this seriously with immediate income supports to help get these 210 workers and all Ontarians through this rough patch.”

McIsaac and others didn’t just stay quiet when they lost their jobs without pay. They responded by calling for the workers to be recalled and for compensation. On Monday March 23, they organized a demonstration outside the Whitby Town Hall during the council’s proceedings, lining the boulevard with signs, filling the parking lot with cars occupied with no more than one person, and having participants livestream the meeting on their phones.

“We really wanted them to give the part-time staff the opportunity to prepare for what is yet to come,” said McIsaac. “And now as COVID-19 is evolving every single day and our province is on the verge of lockdown, it would give people the opportunity to set money aside, but we were not given that opportunity.”

While council voted against recalling the workers providing financial support, McIsaac and others are continuing to raise attention about the issue.

“We as a part-time unit feel like we’re not treated respectfully or with equity,” said McIsaac. “One of the statements on our signs from the demonstration said it all: ‘Just because we work half the hours, does not mean we are half the worth.’”