Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay health unit, striking nurses don't agree on how close new deal is

As a strike by 58 public health nurses at the Thunder Bay District Health Unit is poised to enter its fourth week, statements by union and management officials indicate the two sides are no closer to a deal.

Health unit says it's 'deeply disappointed' in Oct. 29 nurses' proposal, union says offer will cost less

A number of services offered through the Thunder Bay District Health Unit remain suspended as a strike by 58 public health nurses continues. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)

As a strike by 58 public health nurses at the Thunder Bay District Health Unit is poised to enter its fourth week, statements by union and management officials indicate the two sides are no closer to a deal.

Negotiators for the Ontario Nurses Association, the union that represents the health unit's nurses, sent a counter-proposal to the health unit's "final offer," on Oct. 29, union officials said. The health unit's offer, which the union rejected, came after one day of mediation on Oct. 15 and several days of negotiations.

"Really, we aren't that far apart, when you ... look at it in perspective, right? I think we're closer together than we think," Becky Bridgman, the nurses' bargaining unit president told CBC News two days after the counter-offer was sent.

"We just need a little bit of movement on the employer's side ... I think what we presented them [with] was a fair offer."

Officials with the health unit don't agree, according to a statement released by public health officials on Friday.

"[The] Thunder Bay District Health Unit is deeply disappointed with the latest proposal presented by the Ontario Nurses' Association," said the statement, attributed to Lance Dyll, the health unit's director of corporate services.

"Following the latest monetary proposal from ONA, it is clear that both parties have not come closer, but in fact, are now further apart with increased demands compared to the proposal presented by ONA."
58 public health nurses with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit walked off the job Oct. 16. The nurses union says its latest counter-offer "would cost the employer less than our previous offer." (Heather Kitching / CBC)

The union then responded to that statement with one of its own, calling the health unit's claims misleading and saying that the Oct. 29 counter-proposal was "an offer of settlement that would cost the employer less than our previous offer while valuing the important work that public health nurses do for our communities."

The union has said that the Thunder Bay public health nurses are the lowest-paid in the province; CBC News has asked the health unit for comment on that claim but hasn't received a response. The nurses association has also said working conditions and staffing levels are other issues at the core of the labour dispute.

Dyll's statement said the health unit is seeking a deal "that is fair and reasonable while recognizing the financial constraints of publicly funded organizations."

A number of services remain on-hold during the strike, such as nurse practitioner clinics, street nursing, immunization and travel health clinics as well as a number of services for new families.

Strike 'most unfortunate', health minister says

The strike has also been discussed at Queen's Park, with Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Judith Monteith-Farrell questioning Health Minister Christine Elliott on what the ministry is doing to "bring their employer ... back to the table and achieve an equitable end to the strike."

"The situation is most unfortunate," Elliott said in response, adding that her ministry is "encouraging all parties to stay at the table and discuss."

"It's for the benefit of all patients that the parties get together and try and resolve their differences; we are doing whatever we are able to do but that is a discussion that needs to happen between the parties."

In its statement, the health unit said it "is open to further discussions;" the union said it, too, is prepared to continue negotiating. The nurses association has also said it has reach ed out several times to the health unit about re-establishing talks but those have been rejected.