Workers, with support from clients, walk a picket line Tuesday outside the Canadian Hearing Society office on Wellington Street in London. The local agency has about a dozen staff on strike. Critical services for more than 6,000 deaf people in the London area are curtailed as a strike drags on.
The union claims the Canadian Hearing Society is dragging its feet on returning to the bargaining table, keeping 227 workers off the job across Ontario. “The employer is refusing to come to the table. There are outstanding issues,” said Barbara Wilker-Frey, national representative for Local 2073 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
“We have been communicating with them every other day for two weeks, and there has been no uptake.” The London office employs about a dozen people and covers Middlesex, Oxford, Huron, Elgin and Perth counties and parts of Bruce and Grey counties. Classes for new immigrants are among the programs curtailed by the strike, affecting about a dozen deaf refugees and immigrants trying to learn both English and sign language.
“The impact is huge. The deaf and hard-of-hearing community relies on us for interpretation, for employment assistance and for auditory services including hearing aids and repairs,” Wilker-Frey said. But Gary Malkowski, vice-president at the Canadian Hearing Society and member of the executive bargaining team, said the union walked away from the table.
“CHS had requested bargaining continue to potentially avoid a labour disruption. After communicating their intent to strike, CUPE handed a new offer to Ministry of Labour mediators but their offer was not financially sustainable,” he stated in an email.
The workers, who have been without a collective agreement for four years, walked off the job March 6. About 40 per cent of striking workers are deaf. Melkowski said the society is working to maintain services.“We have been able to ensure all priority and essential clients’ needs are met through our services or through partner agencies. We have a robust strike plan which focuses on limiting the risk to the people we serve.”