Julia Dumanian made $311,500 last year. This was a 13 percent raise over the $275,000 she made the previous year, and a 155 percent increase over her starting 2015 salary of $122,276. The organization that Dumanian is in charge of is Canadian Hearing Services (CHS). That’s a lot of money for the head of a non-profit primarily funded by the Ontario Government.
The frontline workers at CHS deliver crucial services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community; services they rely on when they visit the doctor, take a class, or appear in court. These workers are members of CUPE 2073. The 210 members work as interpreters, counsellors, instructors, audiologists, employment consultants, intervenors, IT, and administrative personnel at CHS. More than a quarter of members are Deaf and 90 percent are women.
CUPE 2073’s Collective Agreement expired last year and they are currently at an impasse with Dumanian in negotiating the new agreement. The employer walked away from the bargaining table on November 15. As a result, members have been forced to prepare for job action.
A bad faith boss
Prior to Dumanian’s appointment as CEO in 2015, workers and management at CHS had built a respectful relationship spanning over 25 years. This was broken in 2017, when CUPE 2073 members had to take their first ever job action. This was also the first round of negotiations with CEO Dumanian at the helm as the employer. Many employees and people in the community felt that, in the two years since Dumanian had taken over, the organization was shifting from being a service provider by and for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people to being a business. Workers noted that the majority of the newly hired executives were not from the Deaf community.
This shift was also reflected in the 2017 contract negotiations, where the employer tried to attack employees’ health benefits and working conditions. CUPE 2073 members stood tall and took the fight to the picket lines. The strike lasted ten weeks and ultimately secured them a fair deal, protecting their sick leave and winning modest wage increases and pension improvements.
Five years later and CUPE 2073 has again been pushed into a difficult position. This time by both Dumanian and the Ford government. The union is under the foot of Ford’s Bill 124, which means that members’ maximum wage increase for the next three years is capped at 1 percent per year. With inflation currently at 7 percent, the 1 percent per year is a significant cut to real wages. Despite this, the employer has not committed to paying even the 1 percent. This is insulting, especially when you remember that Dumanian received a 13 percent raise last year and made $311,500. To put that amount into perspective, the organization could pay each of its 210 employees an extra $1483 this year with Dumanian’s salary. This would more than cover a 1 percent wage increase for every member.
Another issue on the table is job security. When the pandemic first hit, CHS laid off over 50 percent of its employees. Thankfully, the employer was required to bring these staff back on because of the language in the current Collective Agreement. Unsurprisingly, it is also this language that the employer is now trying to strip away. The employer wants to create a new “temporary layoff” category. Under this category, employees are put in a kind of purgatory where they cannot exercise bumping rights, sever employment, or receive payment in lieu of notice as long as the employer intends to return them to work. This significantly weakens job security and leaves “temporarily” laid off employees out to dry without any assurance that they will be hired back on.
These additional concessions add insult to injury for workers who are tired of being asked to do more for less while their bosses do less for more.
A common struggle
Unfortunately, this kind of behaviour is common among Ontario public sector employers. Workers are seen not as partners on the frontline who provide the services our communities rely on, but merely as labour to be contracted out or exploited. We have seen this in the healthcare sector with the rise of nursing agencies and in all areas of the education sector—from education workers at elementary and secondary schools to caretaking workers, teachers assistants, and contract faculty at universities.
Another factor that links many of these workers is that they are predominantly women. Women workers in Ontario continue to be underpaid and undervalued. This is true of the workers at CHS and it is true of the workers in the education and health sectors. In fact, 79 percent of all workers impacted by Bill 124 are women. This is shameful. These workers provide essential services that keep our province afloat. Like all workers, they deserve a fair wage and job security. But with bosses like Dumanian, workers have to join in solidarity and fight for every inch of what they deserve.
If you want to help CUPE 2073 fight back against their offensively overpaid boss and protect services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, there is a path forward.
CHS is primarily funded by two Ontario ministries: the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services and the Ministry of Health. Minister Fullerton and Minister Jones—the heads of these two ministries—have the option to audit CHS’s executive. Given the antagonistic and unequal relationship that Dumanian has cultivated with her frontline workers, exercising this option becomes a moral imperative. That’s why CUPE 2073 is calling on all of us to put public pressure on these ministers, urging them to do what’s right and reign in Dumanian so that a fair deal is reached and vital services are protected.
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