BARRIE, ON – On any given day, 50 people take refuge from the cold in a warming centre while dozens of others who use drugs, live with HIV, are part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, or practice sex work find safety and community with workers at the Gilbert Centre. These workers save lives – but tactics deployed by the employer at the bargaining table are putting their jobs at risk and may end up harming Simcoe-Muskoka’s most vulnerable people.

The roughly 30 members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 1813.14 joined CUPE in 2022. They unionized amidst an abusive work culture and have focused their first collective agreement on overtime rights, better wages, improved benefits, and layoff and recall language.

“We have a new executive director who was brought on to solve problems. We unionized to solve problems. We should be working together to chart a path forward, but the Board of Directors has fought us at every turn,” explained Rebecca Madrid, an office administrator and Vice President of CUPE 1813.14. “Many of my coworkers come from the communities we serve. We’ve lived through these systems, and we are fighting to build something better. This isn’t just a job for us. We are a community service, but our Board sees this as a business, and they’d be happy to turn their back on the most marginalized.”

Revealing the gulf between the Gilbert Centre’s mission statement and the Board of Director’s behaviour, the employer is refusing to expand employee benefits to cover the costs of antiretroviral therapy treatment. Gilbert Centre is an AIDS service organization with a mandate to provide social supports and health services for people living with HIV – but employees themselves are not supported.

“There’s no reason for this fight. A lot of non-profits and social service organizations work with us because we share a goal of bettering worker’s lives and improving communities. That’s what should have happened here,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. “Instead we have a Board that is bullying workers and is blind to their mission. If they push workers from the agency or force them to strike for living wages, they will be putting community members’ lives at risk.”

CUPE 1813.14 members held a strike vote last week with every vote cast in support of strike action. The two sides return to the table on February 29.

“Every life is worth protecting. That’s why we formed this union, to fight for workers and for our communities,” said Madrid.


For more information, contact:
Jesse Mintz, CUPE Communications Representative
416 704 9642
[email protected]