AMHERST - Health-care workers in Cumberland County are prepared to hit the picket line even if they don't really want to.
"This is not something we want to do, but we have to what we have to do," CUPE's district vice-president Linda Moore said Thursday, a day after the union set Jan. 18 as their strike date. "No one wants this strike, the union doesn't and I don't think management does either, but it's a question of fairness and wage equity."
Close to 400 members of the local union that includes health-care workers at Cumberland County's five hospitals voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking strike action to back up the union's demand that its workers get the same 2.9 per cent wage increase given to their counterparts in the Capital District Health Authority.
The health care employers, representing the eight district health authorities outside Halifax, including Cumberland, remain hopeful a strike can be averted.
"While the employers appreciate that CUPE has provided a firm date for a possible strike, adapting to the ongoing strike threat is continuing," said health-care employers spokesperson Greg Boone of the Cape Breton District Health Authority. "The employers see the pending strike as a serious situation with potential for significant impact on the health-care system. However, the ongoing goal of the employers is to reach a negotiated settlement without a strike."
Health districts are finalizing contingency plans that include scaling back and suspending services while in some cases patients and families are being contacted about appointment changes.
Moore knows a strike is going to inconvenience people and she understands people are going to be upset, but she's hoping they will vent their frustrations by calling their MLA.
"This was not our doing and if people are really upset they should call their MLAs and tell them their feelings," said Moore. "We don't want to place anyone in jeopardy and we will be there to help in an emergency, but just as we are there when they need us it would really help us if they could call their MLA for us."
Ron Davis, president of CUPE Local 3890 that represents about 50 caretakers and tradespeople in the Chignecto family of schools, understands the position of health-care workers because it's similar to theirs.
"No one wants to go on strike here either, but at the same time they understand what this is about," said Davis. "Our campaign slogan has been about fairness nothing more, nothing less and that's all we want."
Davis said NSGEU employees within the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board were given a 2.9 per cent wage increase, but they are only being offered one per cent.
"It's about fairness and if things aren't settled we'll be out on the 18th," he said, adding he's still hopeful a solution will be found before they hit the picket line. "For me, I have to do what I think is right."
Chignecto-Central Regional School Board spokesperson Carolyn Pierce said the board is working on its contingency plan in the event of a work stoppage by 600 CUPE members.
"We plan to take all reasonable steps to maintain education service delivery," Pierce said. "We anticipate schools will stay open as long as we're able to provide a health and safe working environment for our students and staff."
Pierce said a local agreement was reached with CUPE in November that deals with a number of non-wage issues, but it's provincial issues that are at an impasse.
Also, while school bus drivers will be impacted elsewhere in the district, it will be business as usual in Cumberland because transportation services are contracted out to First Student that has its own unionized workforce.
In a release late Thursday, Cumberland South MLA Murray Scott has asked Premier Darrell Dexter to get involved.
"When it comes to the health and education of Nova Scotians, he should at least be willing to come to the table. Unfortunately, the pattern being demonstrated by the premier is to hide and dodge serious issues such as this ongoing labour dispute, the decision to cancel the construction of a provincial correctional facility in Springhill and to discontinue the Cat ferry service in Yarmouth."
Scott said the province is on the brink of a crisis, but the premier is no where to be found.