CCAC, ONA nurses end strike agree to interest arbitration

ONTARIO—Nurses represented by the Ontario Nurses’ Association went on strike January 30 after being without a contract since March 2014. The labour disruption affected approximately 2,700 nurses working at nine of the 14 Community Care Access Centres across the province, including the Northeast Region CCAC that delivers services to clients on Manitoulin Island. This past weekend the two sides agreed to interest arbitration to settle their outstanding differences after resuming talks on Saturday.

Putting the strike behind was becoming increasingly urgent as the labour dispute was reportedly impacting the placement of patients out of hospitals into alternate care facilities, including long-term care and nursing homes.

“We are very pleased that we will be able to resume our full range of care to patients,” said provincial CCAC spokesperson Megan Allen-Lamb in a press release issued on Sunday. “We thank our patients, and health care partners in the home, community, long-term care and hospital sectors for their patience and support through this time. We look forward to having our employees return to CCACs to resume their important work in providing care to patients.”

“During this strike, there has been a colossal waste of health care dollars as the employer spent taxpayers’ money foolishly on catered meals for management, overtime, strike-breaking security firms and high-priced lawyers, and who knows what else, with a complete disregard for the public purse,” said ONA President Linda Haslam-Stoud in an ONA news release. “We always believed that our offer of several months ago to go to interest arbitration was fair and reasonable and best for our patients that we serve. Unfortunately, it took our members’ resolve when forced out on to the picket lines to bring the government and employers to their senses.”

She pointed out that the ONA had offered arbitration as a solution just before striking on January 30.

Ontario Minister of Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins provided a statement on news that the strike had been resolved. “I am pleased that striking health care providers represented by the Ontario Nurses’ Association will return to work on Tuesday,” said Minister Hoskins. “We are committed to improving the experience of patients and their families and ensuring access to high-quality home and community care right across the province.”

The minister expressed his hope that “a resolution can be quickly reached to ensure that people can continue to access the quality home and community services they need now and in the future.”

In a release shortly after the ONA nurses stepped onto the picket line in Sudbury and the other 13 CCACs that had not signed a contract, the Ontario health minister pointed out that the province has increased funding for CCACs by five percent in each of the past two years “and this year we are providing the home and community care sector with an additional $270 million. ?Even with these increases, we have asked our public sector partners, including employers and bargaining agents, to work together to control costs so that we can continue to invest in expanding access to services for Ontario families and patients.”

“Hundreds of thousands of patients and families across Ontario depend on home care every day,” NDP leader Andrea Horwath had retorted in a published open letter to the premier. “These vital services are an increasingly important part of our healthcare system. As hospitals close beds and eliminate frontline jobs as a result of your government’s cuts, more and more Ontarians are relying on home care to meet their needs.”

Ms. Horwath went on to blast the Liberal government for boasting about transforming home and community care, claiming, “the reality for patients is very different. Home care remains underfunded and services are fragmented. Waitlists are too long and delays are too frequent.”

The association representing each of the individual CCACs in separate negotiations with each ONA local asserted in a released statement following the beginning of the strike, “CCACs will continue to work closely with hospital partners to ensure patients are able to transition home from hospital safely. Patients receiving care in homes, schools and clinics will continue to receive these services as per their individualized care plans. For example, patients being seen by a visiting nurse, therapist or personal support worker will continue these services without interruption,” adding “CCACs will continue to remain accessible to patients and families, partners, and the general public.”

The nurses were seeking a 1.4 percent wage increase to bring them to par with increases offered to nurses in other sectors of the health industry.

Manitoulin Health Centre CAO Derek Graham said that while there had been an impact on the patient flow and data entry as a result of the strike, the hospital “hadn’t seen a huge backlog.” He went on to say that members of hospital administrations “had several teleconferences at the management level to help each other keep abreast of developments.”

Mr. Graham noted that if an issue with an individual patient arose, the CCACs had assured the hospital that they had a method in place to fast track that patient. “But we did not have to push that button,” he said.

The 296 nurses represented by the ONA in the Sudbury CCAC were scheduled to return to work on Tuesday, February 17.