The union representing 230 workers at Community Living Greater Sudbury has applied for conciliation after talks broke down between the two parties.
June St. Germain, vice-president and bargaining team chair of Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 676, said the dates for conciliation have yet to be worked out.
If conciliation doesn't result in a tentative deal, she said there's a “big possibility” the union could go on strike.
The union's collective agreement expired March 31. Members have twice voted on and rejected by a high margin offers from Community Living Greater Sudbury, St. Germain said.
OPSEU Local 676 members voiced their displeasure during an information picket in front of the agency's office Dec. 17.
The union is also in the process of organizing another protest in front of Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci's office in the new year, although no date has yet been set, St. Germain said.
“I think our biggest issue is the wage freeze,” she said.
“They're saying we can't have a wage increase in the next two years ... This will be four years with only 15 cents of a raise. The cost of living is going up by tenfold that much.”
St. Germain said her members are the lowest paid of all community living workers in the northeast. She said she only earns $20.85 an hour, and she has 28 years of seniority.
“I'm one of those persons who works full-time there, and I also work another job,” she said. “It's just because I don't have the support. I have a couple of children. You've got to do what you've got to do.”
She said part-time workers also don't receive benefits, and none of the workers receive pensions.
St. Germain said her members work at group homes and day programs for developmentally delayed and medically fragile adults run by Community Living Greater Sudbury.
She said the last thing they want to do is go on strike, but feel their hand is being forced. Many OPSEU Local 676 members are now looking for other jobs in case there is a labour dispute, St. Germain said.
“We don't want to interrupt the lives of the people we work for,” she said.
“When it comes right down to it, I'm not working for the government and I'm not working for managers. I'm working for the client who sits in a wheelchair that needs me to help them get around.”
Community Living Greater Sudbury executive director Deborah Sullivan was not immediately available for an interview.