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Sudbury hospital and health care workers rally and call for an end to Bill 124

Local NDP elections candidates promised to repeal Bill 124 if they form the government

Unionized health care workers in Sudbury shouted and hollered their disapproval of Doug Ford's government and Bill 124 at a public rally near Health Sciences North on Tuesday.

The event was organized by OCHU (Ontario Council of Hospital Unions) and CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) and was attended by several Health Sciences North employees who took time off during their lunch breaks at the hospital. Also joining the group were provincial NDP candidates France Gélinas and Jamie West in the Nickel Belt and Sudbury ridings, respectively.

Speakers said Ontario Bill 124, passed by the Progressive Conservatives in the last sitting of the Ontario Legislature, is regressive legislation because it imposes a wage cap of one per cent increase for each 12-month period, over a three-year period. The bill affects workers such as Registered Nurses, Registered Practical Nurses and other health care workers in the public sector. 

The Ford government said "the purpose of the act is to ensure that increases in public sector compensation reflect the fiscal situation of the province.”

That explanation has not been accepted by the public sector unions, especially CUPE, which has been holding rallies and public protests across the province. The union has argued that with the rate of inflation now running higher (5.7 per cent) than it has in several years, the effect is like a wage cut for unionized workers. 

Gélinas told those attending the rally that Bill 124 is a bad law.

"It makes me ashamed to be part of a province that would do this to health-care workers," she said. 

She promised the workers that if New Democrats are elected to form the government, the bill will be repealed.

"The day we get elected, Bill 124 will be no more," said Gélinas.

West said he too was speaking against Bill 124 because it's like the Ontario government telling public sector workers they don't deserve their pay.

"Telling people that you're only worth a maximum of one per cent, when the cost of living traditionally is between two and three per cent is basically the government saying you are not worth even keeping up with what your quality of life is today,” he said. “You are not worth the care that you develop, that we don't care about you as a conservative government as much as you care about the people of this city.”

West said the PCs have been calling healthcare workers heroes, while treating them like zeroes. 

"And we should all be ashamed of them. I try not to be partisan when I'm talking about stuff, but this is an election season and we do have to get rid of the Ford government," West said.

He repeated the promise from Gélinas.

"When we form the government on June 2nd, the very next day Bill 124 will be out the door," West said.

Yolanda McClean, the secretary treasurer of CUPE Ontario, was at the rally as part of the tour of Ontario cities where similar rallies are being held to support health workers who have given their all to help Ontario right the pandemic. 

She said Premier Ford "just doesn't get it.”

"You've exhausted yourselves working short or working overtime, to aid your colleagues and provide the care,” McClean said. “You face privatization and cuts to hospitals and health care and that's had a deep effect on you. And you're so committed to this work.

"I just heard a sister tell her story. I got teary eyed with her. I know what you're going through. You have been hit so hard."

McClean said that Bill 124 coupled with inflation continues to push health care workers behind what they deserve.

Sharon Richer of Sudbury, another member of CUPE's Ontario executive, said the union wants to team up with hospital CEOs and managers across Ontario.

"We need them to do two things. We need them to call the Ontario Hospital Association, which we were bargaining with this weekend, to tell them that health-care workers deserve more than a one per cent wage increase. And the second thing, we need them to pick up the phone and talk to the Ford government and also tell them they need to repeal Bill 124."

Richer added that Sudbury's hospital and other hospitals across the province are facing a human resources crisis largely because of the way hospital workers are being treated. She said people are over-worked and there are severe worker shortages in all hospital departments, and not just in nursing. 

Richer said one side effect from the low unemployment situation in Ontario right now is that workers, especially health care workers, are finding they can get new jobs quite easily. 

The OCHU CUPE rally attracted about three dozen workers along Paris Street Tuesday and lasted about two hours.