Unifor president, supporters, join Port Arthur clinic workers on picket line

The workers have been on strike for three months.

The workers have been on strike for three months

Members of Unifor Local 229 were supported by members of other unions today as they rallied at the Port Arthur Health Centre. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

Unifor's national president joined striking workers at the Port Arthur Health Centre in Thunder Bay, Ont., Monday demanding better wages and secure employment for his members.

At one point, Jerry Dias led supporters into the health centre. 

"We're at the clinic trying to get the attention of those who refuse to bargain," Dias told the crowd. "We've had workers who have been here for over 30 years make $14.71 an hour. The fact that you have workers that work in a health clinic that do not even have health benefits, don't get prescription drugs, is an absolute embarrassment."

"This is our way of saying to the doctors, 'Please do the right thing,'" Dias added. "We want you to come to the bargaining table."

Many of the 65 appointment secretaries, medical aides and medical records staff who are members of Unifor Local 229 currently work full-time hours but are treated as casual workers so that the employer doesn't have to pay benefits, according to the union.  They also have no guaranteed number of work hours, it said. 

Protest inside Port Arthur Health Centre 0:56

Union strong mandate runs deep

Workers from other unions and professions came to support Local 229 at Monday's rally.  

Ed Arvelin, a registered practical nurse at the Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital and executive board member for the Ontario Public Service Union came during his lunch break because it was the right thing to do, he said.

"It's a call of solidarity," said Arvelin. "When something happens to one, it happens to all. They want to bargain. They want to sit down. They want to have conversations. Their employer ... they're refusing to do that, and that's not right."

Members of Unifor Local 229 have been on strike since April 9. The union says the employer has not been willing to come to the bargaining table. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

Richard Brassard carried a sign that read "union strong" and "time to boycott" at the rally.

"We stand together to support them," said Brassard, who is a part of the Unifor Local at the sawmill.  "It's kind of disgusting what the company is doing to them, not willing to negotiate." 

OPSEU member Pauline Allen said she was on strike in 2003 and decided to come and support her friend who is on the picket line.

"I'm a member of the union, and I feel that these ladies have not been treated fairly," she said.  "I feel that these doctors are trying to bust the union. To me, it's a total lack of respect."

The women of Local 229 have been on strike since April 9.