Counsellors and support staff from the Bob Rumball Associations for the Deaf (BRAD) in Milton, Ontario, could be off the job at 12:01 am on Tuesday, February 28. Local 4763 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 4763), which represents the 100 staff, including residential and day program counsellors and support staff, have been in negotiations with BRAD for over a year.

The two parties have been at an impasse in negotiations over the inequities in pay and working conditions between BRAD employees and other comparable workers in the sector. BRAD counsellors and support staff, the majority of whom are Deaf, Deafened or Hard of Hearing, are paid well below other workforces who do similar work in the province.

“We’re not asking for much here,” said Dean Rousseau, President of CUPE 4763, “we don’t expect to make up our wage gap in one contract, but we can see that there is a large disparity between us and other people who are doing the same work, and we have to ask: why?”.

CUPE 4763 is hosting a town hall to inform the people and families who rely on BRAD services of what is happening. “We must ensure that the people who rely on our services are well informed and prepared in the event of a work stoppage.” Rousseau continued, “We want everyone to know that this is not something we want to happen, or a decision we take lightly, but it’s a position we’ve been forced into by an employer who thinks they can get away with further marginalizing our workforce.”

The town hall meeting will address more than just the labour situation at BRAD, it will also be a discussion about chronic underfunding of organizations in the Deaf Community such as BRAD.

“We can’t talk about the issues facing this group of workers without discussing the underlying cause, and that is the chronic provincial underfunding we see in the sector,” says Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario, who will be speaking at the event. “The people who rely on these services are marginalized by chronic underfunding and the workforce, who is made up primarily of people from the Deaf Community, are the ones being asked to shoulder the burden of this underfunding through inequitable wages and further pressures on their working conditions. The entire community is coming together to let the provincial government know enough is enough.”

The town hall will be held at the Best Western Milton, 161 Chisholm Dr, at 7:00 pm on Friday, February 24. It is open to the public. Community allies, concerned residents and families are encouraged to attend. ASL interpretation will be provided.

CUPE 4763 and representatives for the Bob Rumball Associations for the Deaf are scheduled to meet with a provincially appointed mediator on Thursday, February 23.

“Our aim is to get a fair deal that respects the work that our members do,” Rousseau concluded. “If we can get that deal before Friday, the town hall will still be an important discussion on the future of services for the Deaf Community.”