THUNDER BAY – More than 300 developmental services workers could be on the picket lines next week.
Members of OPSEU Local 740, who serve as frontline workers for Community Living Thunder Bay, will be in a legal strike position as of midnight on May 21.
Erin Rice, president of OPSEU Local 740 and chair of the negotiating team, said the 325 workers are ready to walk off the jobs if a deal has not been reached.
“We are prepared to go out as of 12:01 a.m.,” she said on Tuesday.
“I don’t want to take the membership out on strike. I absolutely don’t want to have to hinder the supports we do. We are people who care very deeply about our jobs and I don’t want to risk anything when it comes to that but we also have to stand up for our rights at the same time.”
Rice said the issue of seniority-based promotional hiring is the union’s single point of contention. Under the most recent contract, any full-time openings are first offered to the most senior permanent part-time staff.
She said the agency is looking to eliminate that from the next contract.
“It’s about respecting the frontline staff. It’s about showing the staff how put the hard work and dedication in for years get something in return,” Rice said.
“Somebody could be working in the agency for five years, and someone else could have just started working two years ago and that person could get promoted quite quickly and been given a full-time job where the person who has been dedicated for five years could be bypassed.”
The development service workers have been without a contract since March 2014, when their last one expired. Negotiations had been ongoing between then and the fall, when they were stalled as both sides waited for the provincial Ministry of Community and Social Services to allocate funding for wage increases.
Wages are not an issue at this point.
“It works out to about a ($1 per hour raise) for every single frontline staff,” Rice said. “That’s a great wage increase and none of us are arguing that at all.”
Thunder Bay Community Living executive director Lisa Foster said the agency is developing a strategy to still provide services to their clients in the event of a strike.
“Our contingency plan is very much focused on safety and security for people if there is a labour dispute,” she said.
“We’re concerned about picketing in front of people’s group homes. We understand it’s their right and we respect the bargaining process but we really want to make sure the people we support who live in group homes are able to go about their daily lives in a way that is least disruptive as possible.”
Foster declined to speak about specific issues, such as seniority-based promotional hiring, that are on the table.
The two sides are scheduled for mediation on May 19, and both sides expressed hope they would be able to avoid job action.
“We remain optimistic we might be able to reach a settlement,” Foster said.
The development services workers provide personal care and job support for about 100 people across the city with a spectrum of physical and emotional needs. The agency operates 27 group homes.