Members of the Ontario Nurses Association picket outside the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit on March 8, 2019. Photo by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

UPDATE: Public health nurses hit the picket line (GALLERY)

The union that represents 86 public health nurses at the Windsor Essex County Health Unit said they are on strike.

The nurses provide a wide range of services including delivering community programming and administering immunizations.

CEO Theresa Marentette has warned the public there could be some service disruptions over the next few days because of the labour dispute.

“In coming days, we will continue to keep residents up to date on potential work stoppages and service disruptions through postings on our webpage and social media,” she wrote in a statement to the public Thursday. “Residents can also get more information by calling our offices in Windsor, Essex, and Leamington.”

So far, the health unit said its offices in Windsor, Leamington, and Essex will remain open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Service delays are expected during the strike.

It also says the following programs are now cancelled:

  • Healthy Schools Program
  • School Immunization Clinics for grade 7 students
  • School Suspension Program (for incomplete immunizations)
  • Healthy Families Home Visiting Program for new mothers and breastfeeding clinics
  • Sexual Health and Family Planning clinics
  • Nurse Practitioner Clinics (pre-natal and sexual health)

The Ontario Nurses Association said in its own statement, “nurses were forced out on strike after mediation failed to result in a new collective agreement.”

A wage increase is at the centre of collective bargaining talks. Marentette said the health unit could not afford the increase at this time.

“Rest assured that we will make every effort to get back to the bargaining table to reach a deal — one that allows us to make critical investments in the public health services and programs that help people across Windsor-Essex County every day,” she wrote.

The nurses have worked without a contract for almost a year and had been optimistic that an agreement could be reached during mediation late last month. The union said the health unit refused to budge from its final contract offer, which the nurses voted on Thursday.

“This is 2019,” said ONA President Vicki McKenna. “Municipal workers in this county in male-dominated professions, such as police and firefighters, are receiving far better contracts with regard to wages than our female-dominated profession.”

The union said it is also willing to go back to the bargaining table, “at any time so our members can provide the services our community members deserve and need.”