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Union planning on disrupting service at Port Arthur Health Centre

Unifor has warned clinic management to cancel all patient appointments for Wednesday.
Health Centre strike
The strike at the Port Arthur Health Centre has continued for nearly four months, with a rally planned for Wednesday, August 8, 2018. (Matt Vis,

THUNDER BAY – The union representing striking Port Arthur Health Centre workers is vowing to shut down the clinic this week.

Unifor, which represents the 65 employees who have been on the picket lines for nearly four months, is planning a rally on Wednesday with what they expect will be “hundreds of union and community members from across Ontario and Manitoba.”

The union took to social media during the long weekend to advise that it had warned the health centre to cancel all patient appointments for Wednesday.

Andy Savela, Unifor’s director of health care, said he expects at least 300 people to be present outside the clinic and can’t promise any timelines for how quickly people will be able to get through the line.

“We’ve tried to run our strike so that people could access those doctors they need to see. Certainly, we’ve been mindful of that and haven’t tried to prevent anybody from doing that,” Savela said on Tuesday.

“At this point we have to do something substantial to get the attention of the clinic and have them understand the longer this strike drags out, the protests are only going to get bigger. Our efforts to get them to come back to the table are only going to grow in strength. This is only going to escalate in terms of where we go as a union.”

A number of people responded to the Unifor post on Facebook during the weekend. One person vowed to call the police if they were to be blocked from seeing their doctor, while another expressed support for the workers but said they had been waiting a long time for their child to have an appointment with a specialist and it should not be denied by the strike.

“It’s unfortunate the patients are put in this position. We’re trying to give them as much heads up as possible,” Savela said. “The reality is that this could end by the employer simply wanting to sit down and bargain with us. Let’s resume bargaining and see where it goes.”

As well, Unifor ran advertisements and social media posts with photos of doctors who work at the clinic.

Savela said that is meant to show the other side of the labour dispute.

“We think it’s important the community sees the faces and the names of the doctors who work there, who do very well in terms of their compensation and can afford to sit down with us and negotiate a tentative settlement that we can get ratified,” Savela said.

“We think they should bear the responsibility of their actions and we’re committed to putting the lens of this dispute solely on the doctors who are propping up this strike. I think they have to answer to the community. We all anticipate doctors are going to operate or conduct themselves to a higher moral standard than what we’ve seen.”

Wendy Savas, who has worked at the clinic for 31 years, said she didn’t expect the strike would carry into August when it began in early April.

“I’m just frustrated. I’m frustrated for the younger women who are coming up. Nobody deserves to be treated like this,” she said, fighting back tears.

The union will be taking the health centre before the labour board later this month after it filed an application of unfair labour practice by the clinic’s management of bargaining in bad faith. A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 16 in Toronto.

Thunder Bay city council last month urged both sides to return to the bargaining table to try to work out a deal.

The appointment secretaries, medical aides and medical records personnel walked off the job on April 9. The previous collective bargaining agreement expired on Dec. 31, 2017.

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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