THUNDER BAY – Striking health unit nurses insist all they want is a little respect.
The 42 public health nurses at the Thunder Bay District Health Unit were on the picket line for the third day of their walkout on Friday.
Becky Bridgman, public health nurse and local bargaining unit president, said it wasn’t an easy decision to walk off the job.
“It takes a lot for us to go out. In the past contracts we’ve always had a pre-strike vote to strike but when it comes down to it our nurse conscience gets the better of us,” Bridgman said.
“We definitely do not want to be out and suspending our service. I very much love the job that I do and I know my co-workers are also in the same place. We’re a very compassionate bunch about our job but we also have to fight for ourselves. This is our time to advocate for ourselves.”
The nurses went on strike Tuesday, following unsuccessful mediation and a rejection of the health unit’s final offer. The previous contract expired nearly two years ago on Dec. 31, 2016.
Ontario Nurses Association president Vicki McKenna, who spent the morning on the picket line with the nurses, said their pay falls far short of their colleagues across the province.
“They should be paid on par with other public health units in the province, let alone here across the north and they’re not,” McKenna said. “It’s enough and it’s time. They have no options. This is their only option. They’re forced out on strike.”
McKenna said the health unit nurses aren’t looking to jump to the top of the provincial pay grid but want to be treated fairly.
“Northern wages generally across work sectors have not kept pace and it’s a constant battle on that front where we don’t have provincial standards and provincial wage equalization,” McKenna said.
“They weren’t even being able to hold their own in inflationary rates, let alone make some sort of improvement or gain.”
Their position compared to other public health nurses in Ontario isn't lost on the local workers.
“It makes us feel like we’re less valued amongst public health nurses,” Bridgman said. “It’s almost like what we do is a lesser value but we continue to do our job to the best of our abilities.”
Bridgman said she believes a deal is closer than perhaps the health unit thinks, but both sides need to resume bargaining.
The striking nurses have been appreciative of community support they have received since walking off the job, Bridgman said, adding she hopes the health unit wants to get back to business as usual.
“We’ve worked with a lot of community members over the years. A small group of people has made a big impact and I think the community appreciates the work we do. We just need our employer to feel the same way,” Bridgman said.
Health unit officials earlier this week advised the following programs and services would be suspended:
- Nurse practitioner clinics
- Street Nursing
- Immunization and travel health clinics
- Breastfeeding clinics
- Prenatal classes
- Parenting sessions, workshops and events
- Healthy Babies Healthy Children program
- Flu clinics
- Some School Health programming (includes classroom presentations and curriculum support)
- Workplace Health program
- Dental hygiene clinics for low-risk children
- Take Control Smoking Cessation clinics
- Branch Office Nursing services