THUNDER BAY – An afternoon discussion between the Port Arthur Health Centre and the union representing striking workers could provide a glimmer of hope for the resolution of the four-month labour dispute.
Leaders and lawyers for both sides met for about three hours behind closed doors at the Thunder Bay Courthouse on Friday afternoon, with Ontario Superior Court Justice Helen Pierce describing the talks as “constructive.”
The matter had been brought to court for a hearing on an injunction the health centre administration had sought after a fence had been erected in front of the clinic’s main entrance earlier this week, which resulted in it being closed.
But both sides were instead directed to first negotiate a strike protocol prior to the hearing of the injunction application.
Unifor Local 229 president Kari Jefford said the talks went beyond a picket line protocol.
“It was a very productive afternoon. We had an attempt by both sides to try to come to some middle ground. We were able to have some good discussion and agree to try to move this forward in order to get everyone back to the bargaining table,” Jefford said.
Jefford said the union expects to know by lunch time on Monday whether the clinic’s board of physicians have decided to resume negotiations.
The injunction hearing has been adjourned to next Tuesday. Union members will abide by the interim injunction order issued by the court earlier this week, Jefford added.
“Both sides need to start to have good, respectful dialogue and hopefully get back to the bargaining table so we both sides can support the community and the patients that we all serve,” Jefford said.
“Both sides are tired. Both sides recognize the damages continuing every single day that we’re out.”
The appointment secretaries, medical aides, billing clerks and administrative staff have been on strike since early April. The workers rejected a final offer vote from clinic management later that month.
“The last offer made by the (health centre), which we felt was a reasonable offer that included significant wage increases, in addition to increases to benefits, which currently include long-term disability,” said a statement from the clinic’s board of physicians issued earlier Friday.
The health centre remained open for 18 weeks during the strike, before this week’s escalation that led to the shutdown of the clinic.
The union submitted an offer to the health centre’s management on Thursday night, the first proposal made by either side since late April.
Officials with the health centre declined to provide further comment.