RICHMOND HILL — Frontline workers at the Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities (SCHC) have voted 95% in favour of a strike after management’s refusal to offer them a fair contract.

The SCHC is a non-profit organization that provides various health and community services in the Greater Toronto Area, including primary care, mental health support, settlement services for newcomers, youth programs, seniors’ services, and food bank.

The worker-led bargaining committee and their union, SEIU Healthcare, have met with management eight times since October 2023 but have not been offered the improvements they need to afford to keep doing their jobs. Over half of frontline staff don’t make a living wage, according to the Ontario Living Wage Network, with many having to use the very services they are hired to provide. Instead, management has threatened to claw back benefits if SCHC staff don’t agree to what’s on the table.

“We have workers here asking if they’re allowed to use our own food bank because they’re struggling to put food on their own tables,” said Clea Lang, a Nurse Practitioner for SCHC. “We’re not asking for a lot. We’re just looking for wages that allow us to provide for our families and conditions that allow us to do our jobs safely. But management doesn’t care.”

Low wages and unsafe conditions have contributed to over 50% staff turnover since 2021. Staff also point to short staffing and feeling unsafe working late nights alone as reasons people leave SCHC.

As SCHC management refuses to bargain fairly, they have rewarded themselves with significant increases, as high as 8%. SCHC CEO Jeanie Argiropoulos brought her annual salary up to $214,000.

Implementation of leave policies for trauma-related events on the job is another small ask from staff that is being denied at the bargaining table.

“It’s extremely frustrating that management is pushing back on the smallest of asks,” said SEIU Healthcare Union Representative Teena Dacey. “Recently, a staff member was working in a building at the same time as a murder took place. They were not hurt, but there is trauma related to working through that. The worker was not provided support and was told to use a sick day to get over the situation. How can these workers support the most vulnerable in our communities when they are not getting support themselves?”

SEIU Healthcare represents more than 60,000 healthcare and community service workers across Ontario. The union’s members work in hospitals, homecare, nursing and retirement homes, and community services throughout the province.