MPP Jeff Yurek challenges Wynne government on pay equity funding for community living associations

By Jennifer Bieman, St. Thomas Times-Journal

Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek had some tough questions for the Minister of Community and Social Services, as a labour dispute between OPSEU Local 151 and Community Living Elgin drags on.

Yurek voiced his concerns during question period Thursday, not only of the planned restructuring at Community Living Elgin, but some $300,000 in pay equity settlements the agency is on the hook for – without additional financial assistance from the province.

“Your government downloaded the costs of pay equity to the local level,” said Yurek, addressing Minister Helena Jaczek in the legislature. “Premiers Rae, Harris and Eves supported funding pay equity, but the Wynne government has not.”

In August, only months after ratifying a new contract with its unionized employees, Community Living Elgin announced a rebalancing strategy to help stem the $700,000 deficit the organization was facing. The austerity measure involved closing a group home, cutting some 64 staff positions and shuttering a day support program.

The proposal drew fierce criticism from OPSEU Local 151, the union that represents nearly 250 Community Living Elgin employees, and has attracted the attention of ministry officials.

The Ministry of Community and Social Services is undertaking a comprehensive financial review of the agency’s financial statements. A final report will be drafted and presented to Community Living Elgin’s board of directors.

In response to Yurek’s question, Jaczek said her ministry is monitoring the situation at Community Living Elgin “extremely closely” and is awaiting the results of the review.

“Community Living Elgin has received increasing funds from our government,” said Jaczek. “Certainly the organization, which, of course, is an independent organization with its own board of directors, is a transfer payment agency of our government. They are expected by us to provide the services to the individuals and families that require them.”

Yurek said unfunded pay equity settlements are putting a huge strain on front line agencies across the province – particularly when the organizations do not receive additional provincial funding to make the payments.

“Not funding pay equity has consequences, and in turn we are going to see a lot of services and staffing cuts,” said Yurek, who has been contacted by other agencies facing a similar problem. “It’s unfortunate that the Liberal government created the circumstances for this to occur and now they have all the information and said they would be coming forth with a solution soon.”

Yurek is eager to see the results of the ministry’s financial audit of Community Living Elgin and is hoping some action will be taken to prevent the planned cuts.

“She (Jaczek) can go forward and hopefully save some services to the most vulnerable in our community,” he said.