By Lincoln DePradine
Raymund Guiste, executive director of Tropicana Community Services (TCS) in Toronto says management is ready to resume talks with workers who went on strike November 9 last
Fifty workers, represented by Local 2 of the Services Employees International Union (SEIU), “withdrew their labour” in a dispute with management over wages and other issues.
Workers are demanding wage increases, SIEU says, while TCS management wants a wage freeze.
“We’re working hard here to keep our programs and services running for the community,’’ Guiste said, when contacted by The Caribbean Camera.
“I’m unfortunately not available to do an interview at this time,’’ he added, but submitted a statement “to provide some facts and context’’ to the labour dispute at the 40-year-old TCS.
“We are eager to return to the bargaining table once the union indicates it understands the legal and financial constraints we are faced with, and work towards a collective agreement,’’ Guiste said in the statement.
Tropicana, a non-profit community organization, was founded in 1980 with the goal of serving “disadvantaged youth and their families, particularly those from a Caribbean, Black, and African heritage’’.
Their services include individual and family counselling, job search and employment assistance, childcare; tutoring; and other personal development programs.
TCS staff, unionized for the first time in the organization’s history in July 2019.
Guiste expressed disappointment in the workers’ strike, saying “significant progress’’ was being made in discussions with the SIEU.
He said both the operations of TCS and the union negotiations are constrained by the passage last year in Ontario of Bill 124.
“That Act legally restricts increases to employee compensation for government-funded, non-profit organizations like Tropicana, for the next three years,’’ Guiste’s statement said.
“The SEIU is aware of this government-mandated constraint and the potential legal consequences of any compensation increases that attempt to circumvent Bill 124.’’
Even with Bill 124, said Guiste, “Tropicana has attempted to be flexible in how we can manage within this restrictive framework. As part of an overall compensation package, including benefits, we have made various offers which address the issue of wages, inequities that may exist, and comply with Bill 124’’.
Guiste said TCS is “committed to delivering our programs and keeping our doors open during the strike. Our plan is to keep our administrative services and facilities operating’’.
TCS workers, whose grievances include what they describe as “cutbacks on existing entitlements’’, have received public support from MPP Dr Jill Andrew, who recalled utilizing Tropicana’s services and labelling the organization as “integral to the lives of countless Ontarians. I am proud to be one of them’’.
Andrew, the Ontario New Democratic Party MPP for Toronto-St Paul’s, extended solidarity with TCS workers in their “current strike demonstrations for their first collective agreement and wage increase’’.
“I first experienced Tropicana Community Services through Scarborough Youth Resource Centre,’’ Andrew said. “It was there that I received after-school support and life skills; I made friends and found community’’.
In adulthood, said Andrew, “I found ways to’ pay it forward’ by supporting Tropicana as a volunteer of youth engagement and community advisor’’