30 home care workers in Sudbury rallied on Monday after being locked out by their employer on Friday during an ongoing labour dispute.  

United Steelworkers Local 2020 represents about 30 employees at the CarePartners Sudbury office, who work as home care coordinators and administration staff. All, but one of the employees, are women, and their top wage, regardless of seniority, is $16.15 an hour.

CarePartners is a for-profit agency overseeing homecare in the province.

Mike Scott is the union’s staff representative.

“Rather than negotiate a fair collective agreement, CarePartners is trying to bully its employees into accepting a contract that doesn’t address serious workplace concerns.” said Scott.

The employees voted by a margin of more than 90% to reject a contract offer from CarePartners. The union was prepared to continue bargaining to reach a negotiated settlement, but the company opted to lock out its employees on May 31, going so far as changing the locks on the office doors.

“These employees co-ordinate and schedule home-care visits and services provided to clients in communities throughout northeastern Ontario. It is demanding and stressful work. Wages, sick leave, and staff turnover are significant issues that need to be addressed,” said Scott.

The local union representative says wages and working conditions are the major sticking points.

“CarePartners is a large, for-profit company that is funded by our tax dollars. It is unacceptable that this company wants to extract more profit from public funds by putting the squeeze on a small group of women. We’re talking about single moms, students, grandmothers, women who simply want decent wages and working conditions.” said Scott.

Marty Warren is the Ontario director for the United Steelworkers union.

“This is an example of the dark side of privatization in our healthcare system, of large companies putting profits over people. Instead of bullying its employees, CarePartners should get back to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair deal.” said Warren.

Union offcials say many of their members weren't able to make the Monday rally.

“We are limited on how many members are actually on the picket line today. Many of them are off sick due to workplace bullying and harassment and the actions of the company trying to force a memorandum of settlement, final offer, on our membership, put many of them over the top.” said Scott.

Jessica Montgomery is the unit 79 president.  She says the impact of this involuntary lockout reaches across northern Ontario.

"Specifically we schedule our patients, not only in Sudbury, but Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie, up to White River, across even to Thunder Bay. So, we are an essential part of homecare right now because our homecare is in such a critical position." said Montgomery.

CTV News Northern Ontario reached out to CarePartners at their head office in Kitchener, but have been unable to reach anyone for comment yet and the company is not returning phone calls from CTV.

The union says negotiations went on for two months. The company made a final offer on May 28, which was rejected by a margin of 90%.  The workers were locked out three days later.

"Main issues is a monetary gains, money the proposals are far short of the members' expectations. The company is also trying to take away pensions, as well as vacation days." said Scott.

Union reps say they are willing to return to the bargaining table at any time.

"We want to get through this. We want to negotiate a fair deal for our membership and we want the services to continue to the community without any interruptions or possible interruptions.” said Scott.

The union says with many hospitals in the northeast over capacity, patients are being sent home.  These homecare schedulers play a critical role ensuring the patients get the care they need.