Day one of a province-wide job action brought Canadian Hearing Society workers onto the sidewalk in front of the non-profit’s London office on Monday.
CUPE Local 2073 represents 227 employees in Ontario working for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Their contract negotiations with CHS crumbled Sunday night, prompting them to launch strike at 7 a.m with picketers at 21 locations.
CUPE National Representative Barbara Wilker-Frey said sticking points are modest proposed wage increases, and an attempt to dismantle the existing sick-leave program for a “vastly inferior” short term disability program.
“Our interpreters are out assisting people in the community in very difficult situations, often in emergency situations or life events. Our mental health counsellors are working with clients in very difficult situations,” Wilker-Frey explained.
CUPE 2073 is trying to negotiate a settlement that will address four years of no wage increases or improvements to working conditions, while calling on the society to stop taking advantage of workers in the deaf community.
“Many of the members who work at CHS are members of the deaf, oral-deaf, deafened, and hard-of-hearing community themselves and use the very services that they also provide to the broader community. So we’re very aware of the impact that a labour disruption has,” Wilker-Frey said.
The Canadian Hearing Society was not available for comment on Monday, but issued a press release Sunday evening after negotiations with a provincially-appointed mediator fell through.
“We are disappointed that the union has chosen to strike and we will continue to work to get them back to the bargaining table,” CHS Vice President and Executive Labour Relations Team member Gary Malkowski said in a statement.
“The offer we presented would allow the Canadian Hearing Society to continue providing the professional services and programs that benefit deaf and hard of hearing Canadians. As always, the people we serve are at the heart of all of our decisions that impact operations.”
The society says its deal was “robust”, “equitable” and “appropriate for the not-for-profit sector,” with key items including retroactive wage increases for the last three years, maintained group benefits, and a modernized paid sick day program that includes a buyout of unused sick days considered to be “consistent with the removal of similar antiquated and costly practices from collective agreements in many sectors of the province”.
Seven of the non-profit’s 24 offices are being operated by management staff, including the London office at 181 Wellington Road.
The Canadian Hearing Society has offered a range of services, programs, and products to the deaf and hard of hearing since 1940. It’s employees include interpreters, counsellors, literacy instructors, and audiologists.