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Update: Rally shuts down Port Arthur Health Centre (4 photos)

Early morning rally blocked entrances to clinic.

THUNDER BAY — A fence erected overnight has blocked the entrance to the Port Arthur Health Centre, where 65 employees have been striking for nearly four months.

A few hundred people gathered outside the north side clinic Wednesday morning. Demonstrators are blocking multiple entrances to the clinic, as well as an employee parking lot on Court Street. Unifor, the union representing the striking workers, had brought in available members from around Ontario and Manitoba to assist with the demonstration.

A metal fence surrounds the main entrance to the clinic.

Unifor national president Jerry Dias, who spoke at a rally later in the morning, put the blame for the clinic being shut down squarely on the doctors.

"We're doing this to get their attention to do the right thing. The doctors have the ability to stop all of this. We gave them ample notice," Dias said. "We wanted them to do the right thing, not only for our sisters that are out on the picket line but for their own patients. They chose to do just the opposite. They chose not to stand up for their own patients."

Dias said the strike has gone on long enough, vowing the clinic will only be reopened when there is an agreement.

"I don't think (Wednesday) will but maybe (Thursday) might, or maybe the day after might or the day after that," Dias said when asked whether he believes shutting down the clinic will bring the dispute to a close.

"We didn't do this just for (Wednesday). Ultimately, something is going to have to give. This will not be won in a court of law. This is going to be settled at the bargaining table." 

A number of doctors and clinic management had arrived but did not enter the clinic. They declined to provide any comment when approached by reporters.

The appointment secretaries, medical aides and medical records personnel have been on the picket lines since walking off the job in early April.

Jenna Sutton, who works as a Workplace Safety and Insurance Board clerk inside the clinic, is a mother of two small children and said the last four months have been stressful for her family.

"Because of finances, my husband had to go and get a job out in Calgary because with his job here we weren't making ends meet," she said. "It's been a struggle. It's been emotionally, financially and mentally draining."

Sutton said she and her coworkers are trying to hold onto hope the strike can get resolved but it's a struggle.

"I wish with all my heart I could say yes but I don't know. I don't know," Sutton said. "They seem to have dug their heels into the ground and want us out."

Thunder Bay Police Service officers were on scene throughout the morning and were seen talking with union officials as well as doctors and clinic management.

Unifor Local 229 president Kari Jefford said she and Unifor health care director Andy Savela have been put on notice they could face criminal charges, including trespassing, as a result of being seen as the leaders of the strike.

"They're saying everything they're seeing is illegal and we're being held responsible," Jefford said. "We're here to support our members and make sure we get back to the bargaining table."

Matt Vis

About the Author: Matt Vis

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Matt is the managing editor of the Newswatch websites and is honoured to be a part of telling the stories of the region.
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