Services for deaf Ontarians limited as Canadian Hearing Society begins strike

The employees at 21 locations across Ontario are bargaining for better wages and to stop proposed changes to their sick leave.

Windsor employees began walking the picket line Monday

Canadian Hearing Society employees walk the picket line on Monday morning. The workers are fighting for increased wages and to stop changes to their sick leave. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Canadian Hearing Society employees, including those in Windsor, walked off the job Sunday night as efforts to arrange their first collective agreement in four years broke down.

Employees at 21 locations across Ontario are bargaining for better wages and to stop proposed changes to their sick leave, according to CUPE national spokesperson Barbara Wilker-Frey.

The offices in Windsor and London remain open, but are being run by management staff. Limited services are available on site.

The union represents 227 frontline workers who serve about 36,000 people every year. Wilker-Frey said many employees know firsthand how tough a strike will be on those who rely on the society for its various services.

"It was a  really difficult decision for the local to decide to go out on strike because many of our members are part of that very same community and use the very same services that they offer to the wider community," she explained.

In a written statement, a spokesperson for the CHS said the people the organization serves are "at the heart" of every decision they make.

"We are disappointed that the union has chosen to strike and we will continue to work to get them back to the bargaining table," said CHS vice-president Gary Malkowski. "In light of CUPE's decision to strike, our focus right now is to provide our clients with the best possible care and service under these disappointing circumstances."

The Canadian Hearing Society offers emergency translation for legal matters and healthcare, but those services will be severely cut back while the strike is ongoing.

Wilker-Frey said the union has not heard from the society since the strike began, but added CUPE is ready to get back to bargaining as soon as possible.