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Windsor-Essex public health nurses head to the picket line



by Kyle Reid

The Windsor-Essex County public health nurses have hit the picket line with the hope of reaching a new contract agreement. The nurses officially went on strike last Friday, after a second attempt at a conciliation hearing was unsuccessful in finding acceptable terms for the nurses and their employer.

The more than 80 nurses at the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, represented by the Ontario Nurses Association, have been working without a contract since March of last year. Contract discussions between the nurses and their employer began in September, and resumed in February; however, the nurses said any discussions they had at those times were limited, at best.

“[We want] the employer to sit down across the table and talk to us, because they really haven’t,” Barb Deter said, who is the Bargaining President for the Health Unit.

Late last month, the nurses held a number of information pickets as the group grew closer to the March 8 legal strike date. At that time, the nurses said they were remaining hopeful that they could reach an agreement through conciliation at the end of the month. Shortly after, however, negotiations were called off.

The last offer made to the nurses was a wage increase of one percent. The nurses, however, said they are looking for increases based on the cost of living index.

While wages were the main issue for the nurses, now, they said, they are also feeling disrespected.

“This is boiling down to respecting us and valuing the services that we’re providing to the community,” Deter said.

Public health nurses primarily help educate and prevent outbreaks of communicable diseases. They also work to operate school immunization programs, maternal health and healthy families programs, healthy schools programs, and smoking cessation, and substance abuse and mental health programs.

Some of those services are affected due to the strike, including the healthy schools program, school immunizations, and maternal health and healthy families programs.

There are no dates set for further discussions, but the nurses are remaining optimistic that they can sit down and talk sooner rather than later.  

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” Deter said. “We want to get back to the table and talk about things, so we’re waiting patiently.”

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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