01/30/2015 08:15 EST | Updated 04/01/2015 05:59 EDT

Ontario health workers strike could mean hospital backlogs

About 3,000 members of the Ontario Nurses' Association walked off the job in a move that the union says will result in overcrowding at hospitals.

The union said Friday that nine of 10 bargaining units of workers with the province's Community Care Access Centres have voted to strike: North East, North West, Central East, Central, North Simcoe Muskoka, Waterloo Wellington, South East, South West and Erie St. Clair. 

However, workers at Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant have ratified a new agreement, the union said.

The workers include registered nurses, nurse practitioners, registered practical nurses, social workers, physiotherapists, occupational and speech therapists, among other health professionals.

Local hospitals would be severely affected by a strike, because care co-ordinators are responsible for getting people out of hospital beds, and either back into their own homes or into long-term-care facilities, said Vicki McKenna, ONA's first vice-president, said before the Thursday night vote on a new contract.

A spokesperson for Grand River Hospital in Kitchener says so far it is too early to tell how much of an effect the strike will have on its operations. 

The Waterloo-Wellington Community Care Access Centre says a contingency plan is in place that relies on non-unionized workers. 

"We know we have approximately 260 of our staff members represented by the Ontario Nurses' Association," said Dale Clement, CEO of Waterloo-Wellington Community Care Access Centre. "However, we do have 193 staff that are unaffected by the strike and we have a comprehensive redeployment plan in place to ensure we are covering all of the service areas."

Clement added the plan anticipates for an unknown end date to the strike, but she hopes the organization will not have to operate on its contingency plan for an extended period.    

Worker want pay increase on par with other nurses

Care co-ordinators who work for the 10 community-care access centres, including the Waterloo-Wellington Community Care Access Centre (W-W CCAC), have been without a contract since March 31 last year. 

The union says it has been seeking wage increases equal to the percentages given to the other 57,000 members of ONA in the hospital, public health and long-term care sectors.  It says CCAC members had a two-year wage freeze in their last contract.

Community Care Access Centres are a point of access for individuals seeking home or long-term care.

Care co-ordinators are employed by the CCACs to connect clients with the services they need, whether through weekly visits from a registered nurse or o  a room in a long-term-care home. 

As a result of the strike, individuals receiving care through the community-care access centres would continue to receive care,, but anyone needing a change in care could be affected.