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Mental health services in the Timmins area disrupted due to lockout

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As of Tuesday morning, the Canadian Mental Health Association - Cochrane Timiskaming Branch is experiencing a rare labour disruption.

"Yup, the first time," said Maggie Wakeford, president of OPSEU Local 631 and bargaining chair.

"I've been here 30 years in October. I've never been locked out of my workplace. This is devastating for the members and our clients. "

However, CMHA-CT officials said the term 'lockout' is misleading. Paul Jalbert, executive director of the branch, said labour action for this date was already established.

And, to avoid confusion, the organization declined a request from the union to postpone when it was clear the members weren't going to accept the latest offer.

"We had agreed that Feb. 13 was going to be the date for labour action and so we communicated that to partners, clients, funders and various partners," said Jalbert.

The CMHA-CT serves 1,600 clients throughout the Cochrane-Timiskaming districts including Timmins, New Liskeard and Kirkland Lake.

Nurses, mental health, addictions and social workers are among the picketers.

"Now we have absolutely no access to our clients," said Wakeford.

"So they're going to take a big hit on this; their mental health is going to suffer and it's a shame because all we want is a fair contract.”

OPSEU officials said the biggest issue is a clawback of the workers' long-term disability benefits so managers will have access to a better pension. Wages is another one.

"The executive director received a 37.1 per cent increase over three years," said Wakeford.

"He's offering us 5.2 per cent for two years. Something's not right there. If we're out here, there's something wrong in there."

"We've put out an offer to the union and that offer can actually be viewed, at least partially on the website, so if people have questions around what it is (they can) can see it," said Jalbert.

"But at this point, we're hopeful the union will approach us with a conversation."

The union said it's up to management to extend an invitation to get back to the bargaining table and with tensions mounting on the picket line, only time will tell what will happen.

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