Striking health care workers at the Port Arthur Health Care Centre in Thunder Bay, Ontario drew support from members of Unifor, other unions and the community as well as municipal and provincial politicians at a colourful rally on July 9.
“This is a classic example of the needy and the greedy,” National President Jerry Dias told the rally. “You have doctors making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and paying their employees, including some that have been working here over 30 years, $14.71 an hour. This is absolutely disgusting.”
Prior to speaking at the rally Dias led an impromptu march inside the health clinic to confront the doctor owners who are refusing to negotiate with the 65 support staff who work as appointment secretaries, medical aids, and medical records personnel.
"We're at the clinic trying to get the attention of those who refuse to bargain," said Dias. “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 embarrassment."
The doctor’s and the health centre CEO refused to come out of their offices to meet Dias and the workers inside the clinic that is currently staffed by a scab workforce consisting mainly of the partners and children of the doctors.
“They have kids working here if you can imagine,” Dias said. “There are confidential medical files all over the place and you have teenagers working here. What kind of doctor would have their kid acting as a scab over the summer?”
The rally then moved outside where Assistant to the National President Katha Fortier called the strike an example of workplace sexism in action.
“This is about lack of respect for women workers,” said Fortier. "If these doctors could pay women support staff less they would."
The workers, who are all women represented by Unifor Local 229, have been on strike since April 9. Many members make little more than minimum wage with no health care benefits while staff who have been working full time at the clinic for years are still classified as casual.
In a show of solidarity the strikers were joined by a large contingent from OPSEU as well as members of CUPW, OECTA, OSSTF, CUPE and ONA among others. View a photo gallery of the rally at Facebook.com/UniforCanada
With multiple union flags and neon placards held high the group then formed the “Longest Picket Line”, organized by local business owner and community activist Lori Paras, which received constant honks of approval from vehicles as they drove by.
Additional action is planned in the coming days with a second “Longest Picket Line” scheduled for next Monday. At the rally Dias vowed that the union will continue to escalate pressure on the health care centre owners.
“If we have 6,000 members in Thunder Bay, then we are going to have to bring a heck of a lot of them here to show the doctors that we mean business and we are sick and tired of them exploiting their own employees. They should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.
The workers continue to garner support with over 1,700 emails sent to the employer to demand that the Centre and its doctors get back to bargaining.
“The support of the community of Thunder Bay and across the world has been incredible,” said Andy Savela, Unifor Health Care Director. “Over 102,000 people have seen the video that talks about these workers’ fight for justice and are standing in solidarity with them.”
For more information on this strike and to find out how to offer solidarity please visit unifor.org/portarthurhealthstrike