Time ticking on a nurses’ strike at the health unit

Public health nurses at the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit picketed at Windsor City Hall. Feb 25, 2018. (Photo by Paul Pedro)

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit insists health programs are a top priority as time runs out to reach a deal with its public health nurses.

Public health nurses at the health unit could be on strike or locked out on Friday at 12:01 a.m. if a deal is not reached. The health unit has been in collective bargaining with representatives from the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) over the past several months but an agreement has yet to be reached. Public health nurses will vote on a final offer on Thursday. Details of the offer aren’t being publicly released because the ONA wants its members to see it first, but wages are a sticking point.

The health unit said it must focus its efforts and resources on expanding services and programs to address growing health demands head-on.

“Our area is currently experiencing a growing demand for public health services, due to factors including a rapidly aging population, newcomers to our communities, and rising rates of childhood obesity,” said Theresa Marentette, chief executive officer, Windsor-Essex County Health Unit in a letter to the community on Wednesday afternoon.

Marentette said the health unit is not in a position to meet the Ontario Nursing Association’s demands for “unaffordable” pay increases at this time. She added the health unit has offered a wage hike that will ensure its public health professionals are “competitively and fairly compensated” compared to their counterparts across the province.

“They do an outstanding job on behalf of all of us and are to be celebrated for the work that they do,” added Marentette.

The health unit is promising to make every effort to get back to the table to reach a deal that allows critical investments in public health services and programs.

“As a life-long resident of Windsor-Essex County and a nurse myself, I am immensely proud to have the opportunity to serve our community and work alongside so many committed public health professionals, added Marentette” Around 86 nurses deliver services in local schools, administer immunizations and deliver community programming, among other important responsibilities.

The nurses have been without a contract since April of 2018.