As a conciliator met with Community Living Greater Sudbury management inside the Howard Johnson Hotel March 7, about 20 members of OPSEU Local 676 held a rally outside.
With the help of the third party, the agency and union have been trying to find common ground and come to a collective agreement.
OPSEU Local 676 represents 230 workers employed at group homes and day programs for developmentally delayed and medically fragile adults run by Community Living Greater Sudbury.
Their collective agreement actually expired March 31, 2012. Twice, Community Living Greater Sudbury has put a tentative agreement on the table, and twice union members have rejected it.
OPSEU Local 676 bargaining chair June St. Germain said she's “trying to be optimistic” the conciliator will help the two sides come to an agreement, but admits it doesn't look good.
She said there's a possibility the conciliator could submit a no-board report, meaning there isn't enough common ground between the two sides for a deal to be worked out.
If that happens, union members could go on strike 17 days later, meaning they'd be on the picket lines as of late March.
Community Living Greater Sudbury executive director Deborah Sullivan said in a brief email statement she's “hopeful that a resolution can be reached, keeping in mind the significant fiscal challenges the agency faces.”
A strike isn't a possibility OPSEU Local 676 president Tammy Lanktree looks forward to. She's concerned her clients' welfare would be compromised in such a circumstance.
“It'll be really hard if it comes to the point where we do have to step outside of work and go on the picket line, because we do care for our clients,” said Lanktree, who has worked for Community Living Greater Sudbury for seven years.
“We know that they're going to get inadequate care if we're out on the picket line, because we know their day-to-day living. We know what upsets them, we know what makes them happy and replacement workers will not know those things.”
St. Germain said the union is looking for a raise, as Community Living Greater Sudbury workers are the lowest paid of all community living workers in the northeast.
She said part-time workers also don't receive benefits, and none of the workers receive pensions, something she'd like to remedy in this contract.
St. Germain said she hopes to bargain either a two-year or a four-year contract. The province is considering centralizing bargaining in the community living sector and these contract lengths would coincide with when bargaining would happen.
Community Living Greater Sudbury workers' jobs are extremely difficult sometimes, St. Germain said. She said she's been physically assaulted by clients numerous times as they've lashed out in frustration.
St. Germain has been bitten, had her hair pulled and her thumb dislocated. She even had to take time off work once when a client threw her against a bed, causing a blood blister to form on her leg.
While she's endured situations like this and doesn't get paid a lot, there are rewards. She said she spends so much time with some clients that she considers them part of her family.
“We have one former client in particular that I serviced for 13 years who now lives at Extendicare York,” said St. Germain, who has worked for Community Living Greater Sudbury for 29 years.
“I visit him on a regular basis. I don't get paid to do that. But he became a friend. I think a lot of the staff that work in this field think of our clients as people who are very important to them.”