All 50 Public Health nurses in Local 31 of the Ontario Nurses Association hit the picket lines Monday after members voted overwhelmingly to reject a final contract offer.
Registered nurses, public health nurses and registered practical nurses, who have been working for Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) without a contract since Dec. 31, 2022, voted no to a final offer submitted to members through the Ministry of Labour last week.
Wages are at the heart of the dispute between members and the HPEPH. Public Health “did not budge on its monetary offer throughout three days of negotiations and conciliation. They brought an identical monetary offer to the table throughout,” said ONA Communications Officer Katherine Russo via email.
“(Members) went to extraordinary lengths to reach a fair deal with their employer in a dispute in which wages are the main sticking point,” said Ms. Russo.
President of the ONA Erin Ariss added the days of nurses in this province losing ground to other sectors by accepting less than fair deals was over.
“If nurses are outside picketing, you know there’s something wrong inside,” Ms. Ariss said. “The extraordinary nurses working in this public health unit have tried everything possible to avoid a strike, up to the very last minute. They made the unusual offer to go to voluntary arbitration, yet their employer was determined to force their hand. The days of nurses accepting suppressed wages and falling further and further behind are over. Our nurses have more than earned respect and deserve it from this employer and this community, not only for their knowledge, education and skills, but their dedication to preventing illness and outbreaks among Ontarians in Hastings and Prince Edward Counties.”
In a statement issued Saturday, HPEPH called the contract offered last week “fair and reasonable,” but also recognized the union’s legal right to strike.
HPEPH said visitors to public health offices should be prepared to be delayed by a picket line. All offices remain open, but only certain critical services are continuing.
“I want to assure the community that in preparing the offer to our nurses, and throughout negotiations, we have worked diligently to balance their needs with the needs of our other employees and our clients. While we are disappointed that ONA members have chosen to reject our offer, we recognize that it is their legal right to strike,” said Dr. Ethan Toumishey, Medical Officer of Health and CEO at HPEPH. “We are optimistic that ONA will reconsider the offer we presented and full regular service can resume.”
The ONA also noted CUPE Local 3314 members of this health unit are heading to conciliation on August 24 and may soon be in a strike or lock-out position. This could leave people in Hastings and Prince Edward Counties with an almost complete lack of public health services and programs.
A service disruption notice of Public Health services affected during the labour action is posted at https://www.hpepublichealth.ca/service-disruption-notice/