About 3,000 members of the Ontario Nurses' Association walked off the job today in a move that the union says will result in overcrowding at hospitals.

Workers at nine Ontario regions are on strike after rejecting contract offers from the following Community Care Access Centres​ (CCACs): North East, North West, Central East, Central, North Simcoe Muskoka, Waterloo Wellington, South East, South West and Erie St. Clair.

The ONA has been trying to negotiate separate contracts with 10 CCACs. On Thursday, only workers at Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant had ratified a new agreement.

The workers include registered nurses, nurse practitioners, registered practical nurses, social workers, physiotherapists, occupational and speech therapists, among other health professionals.

Worker want pay increase on par with other nurses

The care co-ordinators who work for the 10 community care access centres, including the Waterloo-Wellington Community Care Access Centre (W-W CCAC), have been without a contract since March 31 last year. 

The union said it has been seeking wage increases equal to the percentages given to the other 57,000 members of ONA in the hospital, public health and long-term care sectors.  

"The CCAC health-care professionals have just had a two-year wage freeze," said ONA Region 5 vice-president Karen Bertrand. 

"They were looking for the 1.4 per cent [wage increase]. That's what 57,000 other registered nurses and health-care professionals have achieved ... and care co-ordinators deserve the same thing."

Bertrand said the 1.4 per cent wage increase was not represented in the contract that the nurses responded to on Thursday.

Strike will affect hospital patients

Community Care Access Centres are a point of access for individuals seeking home care or long-term care.

Care co-ordinators are employed by the CCACs to connect clients with the services they need, everything from weekly visits with a registered nurse to  a room in a long-term-care home. 

As a result of the strike, individuals receiving care through the CCACs would continue to receive care, but anyone needing a change in care could be affected.

ONA first vice-president Vicki McKenna told CBC News on Thursday that local hospitals would be severely affected by a strike, because care co-ordinators are responsible for getting people out of hospital beds and either back into their own homes or into long-term-care facilities.

A spokesperson for Grand River Hospital in Kitchener said so far it is too early to tell how much of an effect the strike will have on its operations.

CCAC has contingency plan

The Waterloo-Wellington Community Care Access Centre said a contingency plan is in place that relies on non-unionized workers. 

"We know we have approximately 260 of our staff members represented by the Ontario Nurses' Association," said Dale Clement, CEO of the centre. "However, we do have 193 staff that are unaffected by the strike and we have a comprehensive redeployment plan in place to ensure we are covering all of the service areas."

Clement added the plan anticipates for an unknown end date to the strike, but she hopes the organization will not have to operate on its contingency plan for an extended period.    

In a statement, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said: "We hope that the parties can come to a resolution. We understand that the CCACs have developed contingency plans and are working with all of their partners to ensure patients continue to receive the care they need."

Hoskins added that in each of the last two years, the province increased CCAC funding by five per cent and is providing an additional $270 million. 

With files from The Canadian Press