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Public Health nurses picket County Council after rejecting latest offer

by Kyle Reid

Striking public health nurses picketed during the Essex County Council meeting on Wednesday, April 3. The nurses voted against an agreement with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit the day earlier.

The nurses returned to the bargaining table on Friday, March 29, after three weeks on the picket lines, with no successful attempts to meet with their employer to negotiate. While no agreement was reached that Friday, the two sides met again the following Monday, and the Health Unit presented an offer to the nurses after 12 hours of negotiations that day.

There appeared to be a light at the end of the tunnel after the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) Local 8, the union which represents the nurses, announced a tentative agreement had been reached on Monday.  

The agreement, however, was ultimately rejected by the nurses during a ratification vote held the following Tuesday. The nurses voted 80-6 in favour of rejecting the deal.

During the picket of County Council on Wednesday, Barb Deter, who is the Bargaining President for the Health Unit, said she couldn’t comment on the details of what was offered in the rejected agreement.

Wages have been the major issue for the nurses during talks. The final offer from the Health Unit was made at the end of February, and the nurses voted to walk out on the picket lines on March 8. The nurses have said the public Health Unit last offered a wage increase of one percent, but they are looking for an increase based on the cost of living index.

“Back in February, we took everything off the table except for our wage,” Deter said. “We weren’t asking for anything else, no improvements in anything, and we just wanted a percentage in the wage to make us comparable.

“Right now, we’re not comparable,” she added.

However, Deter said, the nurses are remaining optimistic after the latest sign that the Health Unit was willing to budge on the wage issue.

“At least, this time, there was some back-and-forth,” Deter said. “We saw a little glimmer of hope because there was this sliver of movement.”

Deter noted there were no immediate plans for the nurses to return to the bargaining table as of Wednesday.

“[We’re] wanting to get back to the table,” Deter said. “Let’s get this done, get us back to work.”

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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