Thunder Bay

North West CCAC aims to continue care despite workers' strike

The North West Community Care Access Centre has put contingencies in place now that many health care workers are on the picket lines.

Ontario Nurses Association members at community care access centres reject latest deal

Bonnie Whyte is a care co-ordinator for the North West Community Care Access Centre. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

The North West Community Care Access Centre has put contingencies in place now that many health care workers are on the picket lines.

About 130 members of the Ontario Nurses Association went on strike today, joining thousands of others across the province.

The dispute centres on wages.

On of the people picketing was Bonnie Whyte, a care co-ordinator in Thunder Bay. She said she has questions about management's backup plan.

"I think we do an excellent job caring for our clients and I don't know if that can be, if the contingency plan can meet the needs."

Tuija Puiras is the CEO at the North West CCAC in Thunder Bay. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)
North West CCAC CEO Tuija Puiras said management and non-union workers are covering some tasks for now. Those tasks include things like assessing patient needs, but not giving specialized nursing care.

"Long-term, contingency plans, we will just have to see what we could do, depending on the length of the strike," Puiras told CBC News.

The CCAC executive said patients will still receive care from their regular home-care contractors, but new patients might not be seen to as quickly.

About 50 picketers bundled up against the cold to picket outside Thunder Bay's CCAC office Friday afternoon.

Besides care coordinatorsthe people who assess a person's need when coming out of hospital or requiring home care or admission to a facility–the picketers include some specialized nurses, such as mental health and addictions nurses in schools, as well as others.

The CCAC’s “aim is to settle,” Puiras said, “because we certainly value our workers and they have a job to do. So that's our main emphasis, besides making sure that people get at least the core services that we are obligated to provide."

Dozens of Community Care Access Centre workers were picketing Friday outside the North West CCAC offices on Alloy Drive. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

'We work hard'

The workers’ contract expired at the end of March, 2014.

Whyte, who has been a care co-ordinator for about eight years, said the job can be stressful at times, but she loves visiting the clients and patients for whom she's responsible.

"I hate to think of how [the strike] will affect them, I hope it's not too negative,” she said.

"I think we provide excellent care to people in the community. We work hard, we care about people. It's a very nominal wage increase that we're looking for, and it's probably less than inflation. I certainly hope we can get back together soon and get back to negotiating."

The work stoppage comes after workers in nine out of 10 bargaining units in Ontario voted to strike Thursday night.

In a news release, the nurses association said it's been seeking "very small 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 union added that the community care workers already took a two-year wage freeze the last time the two sides negotiated a contract.

Puiras said the North West access centre has about 4,500 clients on a given day in different programs.

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