Local MPPs stood alongside unionized health-care workers to rally at the Paris Street entrance of the Hospital Science North (HSN) today, shouting and waving at passing cars with a purpose: to push for better protective equipment against COVID-19 and to push back against Bill 124.
The rally participants included registered practical nurses, personal support workers, environmental cleaners, and other unionized frontline staff who will carry signs expressing their concerns.
"They are among nearly 70,000 hospital workers across Ontario currently negotiating a new provincial contract. But after working the past 18 months at a hectic pace in a pandemic, these workers feel devalued by both the province and their hospital employers," said a news release from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU).
Also supporting the rally will be the SEIU Healthcare union, said the release.
The unions said the Sudbury rally on Thursday aimed to push for respect and better pandemic protections — safety measures they say will also benefit patients. In addition to getting Bill 124 repealed, they want the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA), the umbrella group for hospital employers, to make several concessions, including language around seniority and retirement packages, off the table.
A year ago in June, local health-care workers rallied on the Bridge of Nations against the bill, which they said unfairly strips away certain bargaining rights.
The unions said the workers deserve to have a fair contract, but they are instead being “rewarded” by a wage cut under a provincial policy (Bill 124) that restricts them to a wage increase of less than one third of the rate of inflation. Bill 124 also impacts hospital workers’ ability to negotiate increases to mental health supports like psychotherapy and post-traumatic stress counselling.
Local NDP MPPs, France Gélinas of Nickel Belt and Jamie West of Sudbury were on hand for the rally, as was Andréane Chénier, the NDP’s federal candidate in Nickel Belt.
Chénier, a former health-care worker and an occupational health and safety specialist with CUPE, said access to N95 masks and other protections have been difficult for hospital workers.
“So what we are requesting is basically for the government to stop calling them healthcare heroes and start treating them like they are heroes … and to stop the pandemic workplace violence that these health-care workers are also exposed to every day,” Chénier said.
Having been a healthcare worker prior to her job with CUPE, Chenier felt strongly about this protest. “As a healthcare worker I would have very much appreciated that protection...What [this protest] means to me is to have respect to be given to the workers for the work that they do,” she said.
Today’s rally won’t be the last as CUPE plans to schedule similar rally actions throughout August. CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU/CUPE) and SEIU Healthcare began bargaining with the Ontario Health Association last month and are expected to return to the table in early September.