OPSEU stages rally for 'undervalued, underserved' people in Midland

People in passing cars honked in support of a peaceful OPSEU protest on Wednesday, held at Neezhoday Park beside the Midland Public Library.

Approximately 200 protesters from OPSEU held aloft signs asking the province to reconsider the announced layoffs of 32 employees of CLH Developmental Support Services recently, with the protest held outside Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop’s office within the library.

Matthew Sexton, the OPSEU staff representative for CLH DSS, told MidlandToday the peaceful assembly was a call to action for Dunlop, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Michael Parsa.

“We’re just trying to raise awareness in the community of what’s going on in the sector as well as in the organization of CLH Developmental Support Services,” said Sexton.

“We’ve experienced over 30 layoffs, multiple program closures, and some of the individuals who they support in the community may face homelessness if other agencies do not accept them into care," warned Sexton.

Sexton was joined by local OPSEU president for development services, Katrina Cairns, who said the protest was slated to last for four hours.

“Some of these people are the most undervalued, underserved people and people understand that there’s a need for social services,” said Cairns. “Without these programs for people to be utilizing, they’re facing homelessness; they're out in the community with no support.”

In previous correspondence to MidlandToday, Dunlop said the government was investing $3.4 billion for developmental services and of that investment, $2.2 billion funds supportive living services and supports, an increase of over $750 million from 2017-18.

Dunlop was unavailable during the protest, but members of the MPP’s office reiterated that she was working with the ministry, reaching out on behalf of those she’d spoken with as well as members of CLH.

The expected deadline for staffing cuts is July 26.

According to CLH CEO Dean Johnson, CLH DSS cut $1 million over the past two years in cost-containment initiatives in an attempt to continue operations; Johnson noted that one of the two facilities had been run at a deficit for years as the program cost $850,000 to operate in 2023. Johnson was also unavailable during the protest, but spoke to MidlandToday by phone.

“It’s an OPSEU event; it’s not a CLH DSS event,” said Johnson. “I’m glad that they are speaking up against the closure of two programs, the displacement of supported individuals, and the layoffs of 32 employees.

“I support what they’re speaking up for,” Johnson added. “I think it’s great, and I’m happy to hear that there were that many people in attendance.”

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca