Unifor will keep up the pressure on the doctors who own the Port Arthur Health Centre in Thunder Bay, where 65 members of Unifor Local 229 have been on strike for 122 days, Unifor National President Jerry Dias vows.
“This is about the needy and the greedy. This clinic reopens when we have a deal,” Dias told a rally outside the centre Wednesday.
Unifor erected fences around the centre early Wednesday morning, then surrounded the building with Unifor activists from across Ontario and Manitoba, and supporters from the community – shutting down the clinic.
The employer sought an injunction in court to force union members to allow patients and doctors into the building.
“In the time the employer wasted in court seeking an interim injunction, we could have reached a deal at the bargaining table,” said Katha Fortier, Assistant to the National President.
Dias said he personally reached out to the doctors over the weekend to give them every chance to return to the table, negotiate a fair deal and ensure the clinic stayed open for patients, but the doctors refused to talk.
“The doctors have the power to end this thing today,” Dias said.
The strike began April 9 after members voted 94 per cent to reject a sub-standard final offer that included wages well below those at other clinics, and casual employment conditions that denied them health benefits or reliable scheduling of work hours.
Unifor has raised concerns that scabs with questionable qualifications, many of them relatives of the doctors, are being used while experienced workers are on the street.
Unit Chair Lori Salmi said the incredible support the strikers have received has boosted the spirits of the members.
“I just want to get back to work and talk to my patients,” said Salmi, an appointment secretary at the centre. “Thank you everyone for the support you have shown.”
The strikers were joined on Wednesday by members of several other unions, including OPSEU, ONA, ETFO and building trades unions.
Community support for the strikers has been strong. When a couple of doctors sat on her mother’s lawn on Wednesday, one neighbour sprayed them with a garden hose to chase them off, to the cheers of picketers at the health centre.
Those who rely on the centre have also shown their support. George Rempel’s wife was sick and needed to see her doctor, but the doctor is at the Port Arthur Health Centre.
So while his wife was at the doctor on Tuesday, the lifelong Thunder Bay resident picketed outside with the strikers. The next day, he returned with two friends, carrying a sign that read “Bullying is wrong” on one side and “Citizens Care” on the other.
“It is unbelievable that the doctors will not return to the table. These women are great, and deserve better,” he said.