Thunder Bay PSW strike enters second week

Striking personal support workers and their employer both say they want a quick end to the ongoing province-wide labour dispute.
Personal support workers in Thunder Bay began striking last week as part of a province-wide effort to improve wages and benefits. (Josh Lynn/CBC)

Striking personal support workers and their employer both say they want a quick end to the ongoing province-wide labour dispute.

About 20 PSWs with Red Cross Care Partners in Thunder Bay walked off the job about a week ago over what the union said are low wages and a lack of benefits.

SEIU Healthcare union president Sharleen Stewart said she wants a deal done soon.

“I remain optimistic every day,” she said. “It would be a wonderful Christmas present for the PSWs and their clients to have … each other back.”

Both sides said they're open to talks, but none are scheduled.

'Very personal relationship'

Tanya Elliott, director of Communications for Red Cross Care Partners, said the organization will keep using PSWs from other agencies — or other Red Cross staff — to take care of clients.

“It's certainly a challenging time, and we recognize that, and it's challenging for our clients as well,” she said. “We're making every effort to minimize disruption in service and to communicate with our clients.”

But Sharleen Stewart said those interim measures are not ideal.

“What people don't realize is this is a very personal relationship between the client and their personal support worker ... They don't want a stranger bathing them and doing their personal care,” Stewart said.     

The union stepped up its push to raise awareness about their cause with demonstrations in front of three provincial government ministers' offices on Wednesday: Deb Matthews (Health and Long-Term Care), Yasir Naqvi (Labour) and Charles Sousa (Finance).The union wants the province to help resolve the strike.

Elliott wouldn't speculate whether a deal could be reached before Christmas.

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