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Ontario WSIB workers threaten strike as deadline looms

Fred Hahn, President of the Ontario Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), speaks at a press conference at Queen's Park in Toronto on July 16, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Employees at Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board are threatening to strike if a new contract agreement isn’t reached by next week.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents the workers, said Thursday that employees want more money, more resources and more training.

“Too many of my coworkers are running on fumes,” said Harry Goslin, president of the local chapter of CUPE that represents 3,750 workers.

“When the workers who deliver the very services Ontarians rely on are struggling, it has an unavoidable impact on service delivery.”

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The board provides wage-loss benefits, medical coverage and support to those who have work-related injuries and illnesses.

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CUPE said it has a strike vote of 97 per cent in favour of labour action and has set a deadline to get a deal done by next Tuesday. There are two days of negotiations left before the deadline.

“If we need to take legal strike action, we are ready,” Goslin said. “Sadly, we are not yet close to a deal.”

The WSIB said it was hopeful it could “reach a fair and reasonable agreement.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Labour, which is responsible for the WSIB, said it is encouraging both sides to resolve their differences at the bargaining table.

“We are confident that by working together the parties can reach a settlement,” said Jennifer Rushby.

“The WSIB has been clear they will continue to process claims, and provide pay, medical coverage, and support to injured workers through this period.”

Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario, argued the workload has increased significantly for WSIB employees.

“A few years ago, the average WSIB case manager had about 70 cases to oversee, 70 injured workers, 70 families depending on them,” he said.

“Today that number for some has ballooned to 140 cases, and some have more.”

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He said workers need the WSIB to provide more training. For example, he said, the organization used to provide six months of training to every adjudicator and case manager.

“That training has been cut in half,” Hahn said.

“The results of all this are clear: an unreasonable workload for WSIB workers resulting in burnout, attrition, and understaffing — a critical service that’s not up to the task, leaving injured workers waiting months for their benefits.”

The WSIB took issue with some of Hahn’s claims.

Spokeswoman Christine Arnott said the workload of each case manager is not too high, saying 358 more people have been hired since 2019 to manage claims and there has not been a single workload grievance in the past three years.

Arnott also said that training time was not cut in half — training for new case managers increased to 19 weeks in 2017, up from 16 weeks before, she said.

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