The union representing 50 striking Quinte-area public health nurses is speaking out after it was denied the opportunity to speak at municipal council meetings in Picton and Belleville.
Council clerks for Prince Edward County, Hastings and Belleville cited the wish not to interfere with “ongoing collective bargaining” talks as the reason to deny the nurses an opportunity to speak.
Local public health nurses have been on the picket lines since Monday, Aug. 21. The ONA Local 31 says wages continue to be the main sticking point with Hastings Prince Edward Public Health.
In a terse statement issued Friday, ONA President Erin Ariss, RN, said the decision not to allow members to speak at municipal council meetings was frustrating; there are no ongoing collective bargaining taking place between the board of health and ONA.
“Negotiations ceased when the board of health failed to come to the bargaining table with a respectful and fair wage increase for nurses, and rejected an extraordinary offer to go to arbitration and avoid a strike,” said Ms. Ariss.
Prince Edward County spokesperson Mark Kerr said the municipality was unable to permit the request as two councillors sit on the Board of Health.
“Local 31 is currently bargaining with Hastings & Prince Edward Public Health. Prince Edward County has elected officials (Councillors John Hirsch and Kate MacNaughton) who serve on the Board of Health and receiving a deputation may be seen as a conflict in the negotiation and bargaining process,” said Mr. Kerr via email.
He added that the Clerk’s Office told Local 31 that if it had information to share, it would be provided to councillors in their regular information package.
Ms. Arris said Public Health nurses are eager to return to providing care and services to their community and will do so as soon as the employer is “prepared to return to the table with an offer that reflects their value and the current economic realities they face.”
She said the denial of the request to speak to council members has broader implications. A fundamental function of council is to hear the concerns of its constituents and act in their best interests.
Ms. Arris said local council members have the democratic obligation to listen to those who reside within their areas.
“Residents should be extremely concerned that their councils are silencing nurses and those concerned about their local health care. Public health is of crucial importance to the community and council needs to hear that this board of health has refused to invest in front-line care by offering nurses a fair contract, despite a budget surplus and new funds coming in,” said Ms. Ariss.
“Council members who sit on the board of health should recuse themselves if they find themselves in conflict. Silencing health-care advocates should never be an option in a fair and democratic society.”