The threat of local government strikes across England, Northern Ireland and Wales has moved closer after workers voted overwhelmingly to reject a below-inflation pay offer of 2%.
In a consultation with members, public sector union Unison said 81% voted to reject the offer, giving a major thumbs-down to the deal on the table.
The union now looks set to proceed to an industrial action ballot. The GMB and Unite unions are also preparing to ballot their local government members on industrial action.
The three unions, who between them represent more than one million council workers, registered a formal dispute over pay on 16 July. They are continuing to press for urgent talks with communities secretary Hazel Blears after pay talks stalled last week.
Unison's head of local government, Heather Wakefield, said: "These low-paid women who are providing school dinners, home and residential care, are at the very bottom of the public sector pay scale.
"Yet they, and all the other local government workers who provide vital public services, are being told all they can expect is a pay cut."
The employers' failure to offer a better deal than 2% was particularly galling in light of last week's improved offer to NHS staff, Wakefield said.
Local Government Employers has said any settlement has to "be affordable both to the taxpayer and councils".