OTTAWA – When Francophone women in the Ottawa area are looking for safety from domestic violence, there’s only one shelter for them: Maison d’amitié. Those doors may soon be closed to women in need as management chose International Women’s Day to request a “no board” report and set the clock ticking towards a lock-out in their attempt to force concessions on the workers.

The day-to-day work of the 30 women who form the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 5237 has changed greatly in recent years, a result of the intersection of the mental health and housing crises. From a focus purely on programs for women and families who have experienced abuse, they now see women and children with multiple diagnosis and those who have recently lived on the streets, a symptom of the lack of upstream mental health and community supports.

Despite increasing rates of burnout and vicarious trauma among the workers, management is trying to force them into 12-hour workdays.

“We’re already exhausted after an eight-hour day spent lurching from crisis to crisis. How do they expect us to manage another four hours while offering the same quality of service?” said Anick McMilan, a frontline worker at Maison d’amitié with more than twenty years’ experience and vice-president of CUPE 5237. “They’re going to destroy our mental health but it’s not just us who are going to suffer. The women and families who depend on us will suffer too.”

Management claims that the proposed change in schedule will offer better continuity of services for the women despite the agency having operated three shifts since it welcomed the first family in 1977. McMilan asserts that the real impact will be that part time and casual employees, who account for 68 per cent of the staff, will see a reduction in hours and part time employees will lose their benefits.

This is not the first time that Maison d’amitié’s hard-bargaining tactics have jeopardized these critical services. Despite being the only Francophone women’s shelter in Ottawa, it was only an eleventh-hour agreement in their last round of bargaining that kept the shelter open. The timing of this “no board” request, though, is particularly galling as it came on International Women’s Day.

“The director was handing out flowers and cake to mark International Women’s Day at the same time as their lawyer was requesting a “no board” to let them lock us out,” said Anick. Threatening to disrupt these supports for vulnerable women who are trying to regain their independence, just so they can strip benefits away from another group of precarious women, is outrageous.”

A “no board” report is expected to be issued by the Ontario Labour Relations Board any day which will start the 17-day countdown to a possible lockout. Community members who want to help ensure this shelter remains open with a fair deal are encouraged to visit


For more information, contact:

Jesse Mintz, CUPE Communications Representative

416 704 9642

[email protected]