Huron Perth Public Health released a written statement on Thursday expressing disappointment at the length of time it is taking to negotiate a final agreement with Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1331.
"After amalgamation in 2020, HPPH successfully worked together with two other unions to reach a collective agreement for each union within a year of first bargaining date," HPPH said after a request for comment from StratfordToday. "We are committed to also successfully reaching an agreement with CUPE, which is why the employer filed for conciliation in hopes to expedite a fair deal."
In an interview, Pam Hanington, president of CUPE Local 1331, said three years without an agreement is too long. A second conciliation meeting with HPPH senior leadership and their contracted negotiator is scheduled for Feb. 15.
"The employer hasn't offered us what they have offered other unions. We haven't really had a fulsome conversation about wages, there are still other things on the table, such as hours of work, overtime and changes to benefits. We are afraid of losing things like pregnancy parental leave that would be a big loss for us."
Hanington told StratfordToday that the local union has "given up an awful lot."
"We are just trying to maintain what we have, nothing extra. We have record-setting inflation and cost-of-living increases but we have not got an offer that we can take to our membership."
HPPH said benefits, wages, the duration of the collective agreement, and retroactivity are all part of the compensation package in ongoing bargaining.
"Therefore we will not give specific details on those items."
The current agreement expired Dec. 31, 2020. The new local, formed after the amalgamation of the Huron County and Perth District health units, represents 70 HPPH employees, including administrative assistants, custodians, dental hygienists, health promoters, IT support technicians, parent resource visitors, public health inspectors, and tobacco enforcement officers.
"Our inspectors are inspecting food premises and water systems, protecting the health of the public," Hanington said. "The person who answers the phone when you call the health unit is (a member of) CUPE."
Hanington said nurses, epidemiologists and dietitians are represented by ONA and OPSEU.
"Pretty much everyone else is with us."
Though they prefer not to strike, Hanington said they voted 93 per cent in favour of job action if a deal can't be reached.
HPPH said they are committed to a fair deal for all HPPH employees and are hopeful a second conciliation day with CUPE will lead to an agreement.
Added Hanington: "I am ever hopeful we will get somewhere on the 15th."