Home and Community Care Support Services (HCCSS) Bargaining: Setting up the context and next steps

October 19, 2023

It was eight years ago when about 3,000 nurses and health-care professionals who worked at the then-called Community Care Access Centres went on a forced strike for just under three weeks. Their demands were simple: better wages to meet the rising cost of inflation. In the end, they achieved their demands.

During that cold February in 2015 – where temperatures in the north were at a bone-chillingly low minus 40 degrees – our ONA members took to the streets, demanding respect at the bargaining table. Our members’ eyelashes froze, hot coffee couldn’t be consumed quick enough to warm our members, and insulated winter boots became mandatory picket-walking wear.

HCCSS primer

Come the end of this November 2023, ONA’s seasoned and steadfast negotiating team for our now-called Home and Community Care Support Services (HCCSS) head to conciliation seeking fairness for 4,000 members in the sector.

Our ONA members who work in HCCSS are proud care coordinators, nurse practitioners, clinical care specialists, receptionists, mental health and addictions nurses, palliative nurses and so much more. They research, plan, assess and develop complex treatment and home care plans for patients, residents and clients. They work with many community organizations to arrange for quality care for those who need it while trying to keep up with the immutable workplace demands.

Conciliation upcoming

During the week of November 14, ONA and employer representatives will meet with a Ministry of Labour conciliator to reach an agreement for the 10 ONA HCCSSs that are part of this bargaining, if possible. The focus is to harmonize the existing collective agreements and bolster our job security, severance and merger language.

Why does this need to happen? The Ford government has introduced legislation to merge all 14 HCCSSs into one provincial entity called, “Shared Service Organization.” The provincial government has assured ONA that there will be no loss of jobs, collective agreement rights, pensions or benefits.

Members working in the HCCSS sector have seen seven years of instability. The government has realigned, reorganized and renamed this sector many times, causing workers to feel displaced and concerned about the future. It’s well past time to stabilize this health-care sector once and for all.

Bargaining and actions ahead

ONA’s bargaining proposals underscore the need to respect and compensate care coordinators and other HCCSS workers for their invaluable importance to the health, safety and welfare of Ontarians within their communities.  We look forward to moving toward resolving negotiations knowing that the employer has a role to play in this process. Let’s hope they come prepared with an appropriate mandate from the government’s Treasury Board and a willingness to negotiate in a respectful manner.

Your Local Coordinator or Bargaining Unit President will be scheduling meetings with HCCSS members during the week of November 20, after conciliation. These meetings will be an opportunity to provide updates, including potentially voting on a tentative agreement or determining next steps if an agreement is not reached.

If an agreement is not reached in November, we will look toward province-wide mobilizing and engaging in strike planning and any other next steps.

Please reach out to your Bargaining Unit President if you have additional questions that are not answered here.

Which HCCSSs are included?

The HCCSSs that are included in this bargaining are Central East LHIN, Central LHIN, Erie St. Clair HCCSS, Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant LHIN, North East HCCSS, North Simcoe Muskoka HCCSS, North West LHIN; South East HCCSS; South West HCCSS, Waterloo Wellington LHIN.

Who is on the negotiating team?

The team members include ONA President Erin Ariss, ONA First Vice-President Angela Preocanin, ONA CEO Andrea Kay, Executive Lead, Labour Relations Matthew Stout, Region 3 Manager David Cheslock, Managers of Negotiations Marilynn Dee and Pat Carr, the Local Leaders from each of the above Bargaining Units and their Labour Relations Officers.

In addition, there will be administrative support for the team from Manager of Administration Vicki Romaniuk and Labour Relations Assistant Jaclyn Hayes.

What is the union asking for at the bargaining table?

We are asking for competitive wage increases commensurate with what was attained in the hospitals and with the constantly changing economic environment and cost of living.

We are also seeking harmonization of language, including job security, which will protect members’ rights moving into the mergers in 2024.

How can I support bargaining?

HCCSS leaders and members are organizing actions to support bargaining. They are meeting regularly as a contract action team (CAT) where union mobilizers support them to organize co-workers across the province to participate in actions. The goal is to show employers and the government they are unified behind their bargaining team, demanding fairness.

They will also raise awareness among the public about how fair wages, safe and appropriate staffing and many other important issues are linked to them receiving high quality and timely care. To get involved in the CAT and collective actions to support bargaining contact your Bargaining Unit President.

What is conciliation? What happens?

Conciliation is a process required by the Ontario Labor Relations Act, in which parties must engage in prior to triggering a “report of no collective agreement,” which then begins the countdown to a legal strike or lockout deadline.