Thunder Bay

Union rep for striking Thunder Bay nurses says she's 'anxious' and 'nervous' over eventual return to work

The local union representative for striking public health nurses at the Thunder Bay District Health Unit says the length of the work stoppage has her feeling "anxious" and "nervous" over an eventual return to the job.

Becky Bridgman says there will be 'a lot to recover from' when strike ends

Thunder Bay health unit nurses have been on strike since Oct. 16. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

The local union representative for striking public health nurses at the Thunder Bay District Health Unit says the length of the work stoppage has her feeling "anxious" and "nervous" over an eventual return to the job.

That comes as the two sides prepare for a meeting on Friday. The union has said the health unit proposed a quick meeting while the Ontario Nurses Association said it wants a day of mediated talks. The health unit has said it's in communication with the union regarding next steps.

"It's going to be a lot to recover from this after," Becky Bridgman said.

"I think it's going to take a lot of 'let bygones be bygones,'" she continued. "It's just going to take awhile."

A long road to recovery after a strike is something labour experts say often happens. Speaking to another long-standing labour dispute in the healthcare field in the city last summer — the over-four-month-long strike at the Port Arthur Health Centre — Michael Lynk, an associate professor of law at the University of Western Ontario, who specializes in labour and human rights law, said strikes "generally darken good relations for a long time."

"I don't know what it's going to be like," Bridgman said. "I get anxious about it, I get nervous about it, I think there's animosities for our co-workers in there against us, which is unfortunate but it happens, it's part of the process."

"We just hope that when we go back ... that we're still able to function as a group and a team and really still bring healthcare and health and wellness to the city of Thunder Bay."

Union collecting as cold weather sets in

During the week, the nurses association says it's collecting items from the public like toiletries and warm clothes at the picket line for people usually served by the health unit's street nurses.

Street nursing is one of a number of services offered through the health unit that's suspended while the strike is on. Bridgman said the street nurses often disseminate supplies like toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, hats, mitts and socks to vulnerable populations.
Labour experts say strikes can be challenging to recover from when they end and workers return to the job. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

"They would try to, obviously, give people what they needed, especially now when it's getting cold, so hats, mitts, socks are really important and hygiene items," she said.

"They absolutely tried to have a stock of those things."

Bridgman said it's a way for the nurses, while on strike, to "try to continue to support our community and our clients."

The donated supplies will be delivered to Shelter House on Saturday, Bridgman said.