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Striking public health nurses in Thunder Bay appeal to Doug Ford for assistance

Public health nurses in Thunder Bay have been on strike since Oct. 16.
Public health nurses in Thunder Bay have been on strike since Oct. 16. Ontario Nurses Association / Provided

Public health nurses employed by the Thunder Bay District Health Unit have now been on strike for nearly two weeks.

The 58 Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) members walked out on Oct. 16, after they voted to reject their employer’s final offer after three days of conciliation and one day of mediation.

On Thursday, the nurses left their picket line at the Thunder Bay District Health Unit to seek the assistance of Premier Doug Ford during his visit to a pulp and paper mill in the city.

While ONA representatives were not granted face time with the premier during the announcement, according to ONA bargaining unit president Rebecca Bridgman, they were able to deliver a letter to his staff outlining their concerns.

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We were there asking for help,” she said. “He indicated in his platform that he loved nurses, his goal wasn’t to cut nursing jobs, his goal was to trim the fat in the administration of health care. We just wanted to let him know if he’s serious, then he should have a look at what’s happening up here in Thunder Bay.”

As of Friday morning, Bridgman says there was no response to the letter from the premier’s office.

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“I hope we get a response,” she said. “But we can’t guarantee anything.”

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According to Bridgman, the key issues being negotiated are wages, staffing concerns and the overall atmosphere within the health unit.

The main goal, however, is wages, she said. According to Bridgman, public health nurses in Thunder Bay are the lowest paid in Ontario and have fallen behind their sister Northwestern Health Unit, the Kenora Rainy River district health unit.

“It is about fairness. We’re just looking to catch up a little bit so that we don’t stay behind or get further behind,” Bridgman said, “We do the same work as all of our other colleagues in the other health units. We are of the same very highly skilled, many post-secondary prepared nurses.”

The public health nurses are nearing the two-year mark without a contract.

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While the nurses are on strike, several of the city’s public health programs and services are suspended.

According to the health unit’s website, the services impacted by the strike include:

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  • Nurse practitioner clinics
  • Street nursing
  • Immunization and travel health clinics
  • Breastfeeding clinics
  • Prenatal classes
  • Parenting sessions, workshops and events
  • The Healthy Babies Healthy Children program
  • Flu clinics
  • Some school health programming, including classroom presentations and curriculum support
  • The Workplace Health program
  • Dental hygiene clinics for low-risk children
  • Take Control smoking cessation clinics
  • Branch office nursing services
  • Sexual health clinics will be operating with a limited capacity and visitors should expect service delays.

As of Friday morning, Bridgman says no new dates had been scheduled to resume negotiations.

“I would go today,” Bridgman said. “We’re waiting patiently, but they are silent at the health unit.”

A spokesperson from the Thunder Bay District Health Unit did not respond to a request for comment.