Tentative agreement two hours after employees hit picket lines
Megan MacLeod, an X-ray technologist at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre, preps a machine in her department toward the end of her shift on Monday. Health care workers spent less than two hours on the picket line early in the morning. Raissa Tetanish - Amherst Daily News
AMHERST - Things are slowly returning to normal at Cumberland County's hospitals following a two-hour strike by unionized employees.
Approximately 400 employees, represented by CUPE, went off the job at 6 a.m. Monday morning to back up contract demands, but were back on the job just after 8 a.m. following a tentative agreement with the province that will, among other things, guarantee wage parity with their counterparts in the Capital District Health Authority.
"It was a long, drawn out process this time, but it was worth it in the end," local union vice-president Linda Moore said following the tentative agreement. "I'm so proud of the membership in how it stood behind the bargaining team. It was really good to have that support. We did achieve the parity we set out for and I'm hopeful the membership will be pleased."
Moore said there was a little give and take in the end to get a deal, but says it is a good agreement for all unionized employees in that it not only gives wage parity, but also changes the contract timetable so that contracts outside Halifax will expire at the same time as those within Capital District.
Services across the Cumberland district gradually returned to normal throughout Monday as employees began returning to their jobs almost immediately. Emergency departments in Parrsboro, Springhill and Pugwash opened three hours after the tentative agreement was reached while other services resumed normal operations as staff returned.
Health authority CEO Bruce Quigley said all services will be back in place by today.
"As a health authority we're very encouraged that a tentative collective agreement came about and I'm certainly hopeful and optimistic it will be seen as members of CUPE as one that balanced the need for fairness with very challenging economic times," Quigley said.
Quigley credited members of the union for their co-operation leading up to the strike deadline and said there was a high level of respect from both sides of the negotiations. Ironically, he said, union members were training management to fill some of the jobs that had to continue during the walkout.
"The union gave us 12 days notice and that allowed our management job, of whom 50 would be doing the job of about 400, time to be taught in some cases by the same people of whose jobs they would be attempting to do," he said. "It was a difficult process, but even though it was only two hours it showed we had a plan that would have seen us through the short term."
Quigley also credited workers for their dedication, adding many of them were back on the job within an hour of the agreement.
Union members will vote on the tentative collective agreement starting next week and Moore said the union is recommending its members ratify it. At the same time, Moore added she is personally disappointed in the NDP government for allowing the situation to develop in which hospital workers had to go off their jobs to back their demands for fairness.
"It was very clear from the outset that our people did not want to go off the job, but at the same time we're very happy they all went off without question. They knew how important this was, it was all about fairness," Moore said, adding she was happy with the level of co-operation shown by the employer.
The agreement was the second between the province and CUPE in two days. On Sunday, the province settled a contract dispute with unionized school board employees outside Halifax.
The school board employees, including bus drivers, trades people and maintenance staff, were scheduled to go on strike on Monday. Bus drivers in Cumberland would not have been impacted.
Details of the school contract will be made public after ratification.