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Clinic operations disrupted for third day

Both sides to return to court for injunction hearing.

THUNDER BAY – Doctors at the Port Arthur Health Centre claim they are still facing obstructions from entering the clinic after the notice of an interim injunction ordering physicians and patients to have access to the building was served on the union representing the striking workers.

The board of physicians for the clinic issued a statement Friday morning, advising that despite their efforts in working with police and the courts, there are still obstructions to physicians and patients entering the building. The statement that was issued did not provide any details on what was preventing the clinic from being opened.

Katha Fortier, the union's assistant to the national president, said it was her understanding there is an electrical issue.

The Thunder Bay Police Service had set up crime scene tape around the part of the perimeter of the property. Officers were seen going into the clinic and were examining an electrical box outside the building. Thunder Bay Hydro also had a crew on scene.

Police later in the day issued a news release, advising they were investigating the electrical box having possibly been tampered with as a case of mischief.

That came after the four-month labour dispute escalated earlier this week, after a fence had been erected around the main entrance before the clinic was scheduled to open on Wednesday morning, fulfilling a promise made by Unifor to effectively shut down the health centre.

Lawyers for clinic administration filed an application for an interim injunction with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice later that afternoon, with a judge ordering the fence to be removed and for the picket line not to restrict access to the health centre and for strike activity to not be done on the property.

However, the fence remained up through the clinic’s business hours on Thursday as it was closed for a second straight day.

Unifor national president Jerry Dias had said the union had yet to see anything in writing by late that afternoon. A local sheriff and city police officers served notice of the interim injunction in the evening.

Fortier said the union has complied with the orders in the interim injunction.

"We moved the fence off the property and we've been peacefully protesting," Fortier said.

The Friday morning statement from the health centre's board said negotiations between December and March that involved a conciliator had produced an offer that was rejected by the union.

"The last offer made by the PAHC, which we felt was a reasonable offer that included significant wage increases, in addition to increases to benefits, which currently include long-term disability," the statement reads.

The appointment secretaries, medical aides, billing clerks and administrative staff walked off the jobs on April 8. A final offer vote was held later that month, which was rejected.

The health centre's board said no offers have been put forward by either party since, until the union submitted an offer on Thursday night.

"Even by their own admission, since the strike there has been no further offers and I think it's pretty clear there's been no further discussion or further bargaining," Fortier said.

"I think this what the last few days have been all about in this city, is trying to get the attention of the doctors and the owners of this clinic to say we're not going to reach a deal if we don't ever speak to each other. It's absolutely impossible. We've indicated all along we think we're very close to an agreement, we think we're incredibly close."

The health centre urged patients that have health care issues to not delay and either call 211 or the nurses’ registry.

Ruth Cook, who is a patient at the clinic, said she will not go to any appointments as long as the strike continues.

"I think this strike is very unjust. It does not need to have gone on for this long. I don't think it needed to happen at all," Cook said.

"It's just wrong and to have these women out here for 18 weeks not making any money. There are reports they've made denigrating remarks about their staff. It's not right and I can't support that action on the part of the clinic."

Lawyers for the union and clinic administration will be back in court Friday afternoon for an injunction hearing.

Matt Vis

About the Author: Matt Vis

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Matt is honoured to tell the stories of his hometown.
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