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Manitoba Nurses Union prepares for a strike


The message is loud and clear that Manitoba nurses want a new contract from the provincial government and it’s been over four years since one has been put into effect. Nurses have been in the frontlines of this pandemic under a nurse shortage and are now pushed past the brink of what is being deemed as an unsafe workload in hospitals. Just last week 98 percent of approximately 12,000 nurses voted in favour of a strike.
“Our contract expired on March 31, 2017, and we’ve been trying to get to the bargaining table for over five years with no luck,” said Manitoba Nurses Union (MNU) President Darlene Jackson. “We’ve finally got through Bill 28 and 29, and then got to the bargaining table in October and now for seven months, things have been so slow and frustrating. We asked the employers if they would consider voluntarily agreeing to go into interest arbitration, if we come to a stalemate at the bargaining table and their response was no. MNU has offered several times, because we feel that a negotiated agreement would be optimum, and that’s really what we want, rather than consider a work stoppage or a strike, let’s agree that if we come to impasse, we will do interest arbitration. They have responded with a no every time.
“The last offer MNU made was that if they agreed to go into interest arbitration, the MNU will not trigger interest arbitration until after September 1, because we felt it would be less stress on the public and patients. Nurses don’t really want to do a job action right now in the middle of a pandemic, but this is crucial for nurses in Manitoba right now and has been going on far too long.
“In order for MNU to trigger interest arbitration, the Labour Relations Act states that if a union has been in a work stoppage for 60 days, they can trigger interest arbitration after that,” explained Jackson. “We truly would love to bargain in a collective agreement, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. “
MNU is under a time crunch when it comes to triggering the interest arbitration to happen. Much like the future of education, a bill that is being introduced in the Legislative in the fall, will have severe impacts on nurses and MNU moving forward.
“MNU would’ve waited on this and not acted now, however, Bill 60, which involves amendments to the Labour Relations Act, removes the right for a union to trigger interest arbitration after a work stoppage of 60 days, is being read at the first sitting in the Legislative this fall,” noted Jackson. “This has put MNU in between a rock and a hard place, because ultimately what we would like to do is negotiate this kind of agreement. Now we are in a position that if this isn’t negotiated now, then there’s a chance we may be on a work stoppage with no chance of arbitration. We feel like we’ve been pushed into a corner and none of us are happy about it. Ultimately MNU wants to bargain, but isn’t being given the chance to.
“We do have bargaining dates coming up and we’re really hoping that we can come to an agreement that addresses recruitment, retention and wages in this province. That’s what MNU is hoping will happen, if not, we have to reassess where we are in the process.”
If MNU decided to act and go on strike, they will ensure that nurses won’t be removed from the front lines. They would be working under staggered work-to-rule actions to make certain that patient care isn’t impacted.
Despite nurses in Manitoba voting in favour of a strike, much of the general public supports them in this fight, because they see the value nurses bring to the healthcare system.
“MNU is seeing a lot of public support behind us on this issue,” added Jackson. “We’re in a critical nursing shortage right now. We’ve lost so many nurses and we desperately need an agreement that addresses recruitment and retention of nurses in this province. MNU has put many proposals forward that address that at the bargaining table and I hope they look at that.
“I know Pallister has said he hopes this doesn’t happen, but really the ball has been in his court for quite some time now. He has a choice of whether this happens or not. I would love nothing more than to see an agreement at the bargaining table.”