“There’s no recourse for us without a union,” said early childhood educator Lauren Wing
The employees of Garderie Bernadette Child Care Centre (GBCCC) are working towards unionizing, and are now looking for support from the University of Ottawa community. Located in the U of O’s Brooks Complex at 100 Thomas More Private, the daycare offers services mostly to U of O employees and students with children.
In early April, employees began looking for support with no intention of unionizing. However, following a non-disclosed incident involving the child care centre’s Board of Directors (BOD), staff became concerned with the organization’s internal structure and decided it was time to begin the process of unionizing. Employees were also dissatisfied with how issues and concerns were addressed by the centre’s BOD. These concerns included unclear bylaws, the aforementioned non-disclosed incident, lack of mental health support, and improper scheduling and staffing.
According to registered early childhood educators (ECE) and workers at GBCCC Britt Griffith, Lauren Wing, and Jela Vojnovic, the BOD failed to address their concerns in a satisfactory way and does not recognize their unionization efforts due to their application being dismissed by the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB).
In a statement to the Fulcrum, the board, which is constituted of five current and former parents of children who attend the GBCCC, stated it will continue to work closely with staff and the Executive Director to listen to staff opinions. They believe these opinions are valuable, and said they are truly grateful for the centre’s employees’ dedication and hard work. The GBCCC’s BOD also shared its position as to the unionization efforts of its employees.
“The BOD of GBCCC recognizes the rights of employees to seek to be certified to be represented by a union and respects each employee’s decision as to whether they wish to be represented by a union in their employment.”
“The [Industrial] Workers of the World (IWW) filed an application for certification to represent GBCCC employees. The application for certification was dismissed by the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) on October 5, 2021.”
“As such, there is presently no union in place at GBCCC, as defined by the Labour Relations Act of Ontario,” wrote BOD member, Stephanie Arnott.
Griffith told the Fulcrum the application for certification with the OLRB was rejected due to a “minor error with our wording”. The employees are working on resubmitting the application with the appropriate changes, in the meantime, she believes they are still a union and can still exist without certification. Griffith adds that the board is working closely with lawyers in order to maintain its power.
“The BOD was quick to inform staff and parents that the application was denied and seem to be of the mind that the union is no longer because of this,” said Griffith.
“We believe that this further demonstrates their lack of support for the staff.”
“The union can still exist without certification, but we’re also still pursuing that way of doing things. In either case, the union still very much exists,” she states.
The boiling point
In the last month, the tension between the BOD and the staff has escalated to a point which led to a week-long complete shutdown of the centre.
Griffith said that despite many pandemic restrictions being lifted, none of those protocols have changed for the centre. And with enrollment going up to full capacity, it has significantly increased the workload for staff.
As a result, numerous staff members have been facing mental and physical side effects as a result of the workload and environment of the centre. They have been vocal about their distress to the BOD, and as a result, the BOD hired four new staff members. However, the new employees are not registered ECEs and lack experience working in an environment like the one at GBCCC.
“We’ve had multiple people go on sick leave, a lot more people looking into sick leave, we have some staff — myself included — taking medication now, we’ve had hospitalizations, we’ve had people fainting, migraines, like a horrific amount of, very serious mental and physical side effects,” said Wing.
“I mean, at one point they were like ‘Well, we have mental health funding. You can get yoga classes or download a meditation app.’ ”
Griffith stated that while they appreciate the extra help from the new staff, the issue remains that there are not enough registered ECEs. It is very difficult for registered ECEs to take time off work due to this gap in staffing.
The GBCCC staff had asked for a policy change that would allow staff members to have a voice in the hiring process. The BOD rejected the request.
“There’s no recourse for us without a union, because they can just say no, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Wing.
These conditions led to the staff requesting the BOD to have an organized closure of the centre for the duration of a week. For Wing, this shutdown was about allowing the staff to have time to mentally and physically reset and recover from the pandemic, and to give parents enough time to make arrangements for their children who are enrolled at the centre. Again, the BOD rejected their request. Burnt out and out of options, this left staff members with no choice but to use up all their saved sick days to rest — effectively shutting down the centre for a week.
The staff at the GBCCC reiterated on numerous occasions that the children are their number one priority and that all they wish to do is create a safe and healthy work environment to ensure a safe and happy place for the children. Although the BOD has made it difficult for them to do this, while maintaining their mental and physical health, they are not going to stop until their voices are heard.
“As many parents of young children will understand, it is very disruptive to have a daycare centre close on short notice, when parents are relying on having a safe place to send their children during the day. This leaves parents scrambling for alternate care arrangements, and GBCCC has an obligation to the children and parents we serve. As such, it was not possible to agree to a shut-down of operations,” explained Arnott, on behalf of the BOD.
“Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the BOD and the Executive Director, GBCCC was forced to close unexpectedly for one full week. Several staff members called in sick without advance warning and we were, unfortunately, unable to replace sufficient staff to maintain the ratios required to continue operations on such short notice.”
“We sincerely regret the impact of this on parents and are taking steps to ensure that this does not happen again.”
GBCCC employees feel the BOD has and continues to disregard the hardships they face every day working at the center — they do not feel represented in the decisions.
“These are our jobs, these are our careers, and the people who make decisions about all of the things that affect our day-to-day life at work, are not educators and we don’t get a say in those decisions,” said Griffith.
“They [the BOD members] have never experienced working with groups of children or anything like that. They have completely different professions,” added Vojnovic.
Editor’s note: Changes to the article were made at 5:30 p.m. on October 19, 2021, and 1:10 p.m. on October 18, 2021, following two emails from Stephanie Arnott, the spokesperson for the GBCCC. These include the headline that now reads as “unionization effort”, this change has also been made in the body of the article where applicable. The quote “The information you receive[d] [from the BOD] … it is not correct.” from Britt Griffith, has also been removed to avoid any confusion. Griffith’s quote “the union still very much exists,” has also been expanded to its original form. It now reads as: “The union can still exist without certification, but we’re also still pursuing that way of doing things. In either case, the union still very much exists.” This was done to clarify Griffith’s beliefs as to the staff’s unionization efforts.
Editor’s note: This article was updated at 1:30 p.m. on October 18, 2021, to reflect a demand from Britt Griffith to adjust her comments on non-registered ECEs.