Thunder Bay health unit, nurses, to go to mediation as threat of work stoppage looms

Negotiators for the Thunder Bay District Health Unit and the union representing 58 of its public health nurses are scheduled to go to mediation on Monday as both sides say they're trying to avoid a work stoppage.

1 day of mediated talks scheduled Oct. 15, strike or lockout could follow if no deal reached

58 public health nurses at the Thunder Bay health unit could be off the job next week if mediated talks scheduled for Monday fail. (Google Streetview)

Negotiators for the Thunder Bay District Health Unit and the union representing 58 of its public health nurses are scheduled to go to mediation on Monday as both sides say they're trying to avoid a work stoppage.

Two days of conciliated talks in September failed to produce a new deal and both sides head into Monday's session starting to raise the spectre of a strike or lockout. That could happen if no negotiated settlement is reached by 12:01 a.m., Tuesday.

"Our teams are going into it with a glass-half-full perspective, so we're prepared to be at the table as long as it takes, Vicki McKenna, the president of the Ontario Nurses Association, told CBC News. "However we do only have that one day."

A statement from the nurses association said that the community's health and well-being "is our first priority." McKenna added that the union is prepared to keep talking past Monday's session, but its members have given "a very strong mandate to their negotiating team."

"It's been enough already for them."

Contingencies in place, health unit says

The nurses have been without a contract since 2016, McKenna said, and remain the worst-paid in the province. She added that staffing levels are another main sticking point in negotiations.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Lance Dyll, the health unit's director of corporate services, said that officials with the health unit "remain hopeful of an amicable resolution."

"In the event that a labour disruption cannot be avoided, the [health unit] has initiated contingency planning in regards to the continuation of services to minimize the disruption of services to clients, to the extent that is possible," he said.

McKenna said the nurses are responsible for things like disease outbreak control, providing services for new families and school immunization programs. Those services would be impacted "should the nurses be forced to strike or be locked out by their employer," the union's statement said.

McKenna said she couldn't get into specifics as to how far apart the two sides are heading into Monday's talks.