Halifax area nurses ready to defy back to work legislation, union president says

Ruth Davenport, Metro Halifax
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HALIFAX - The president of the union representing nurses in the Capital District Health Authority says her 2,500 members are prepared to walk off the job if the provincial government tables essential services legislation.

NSGEU President Joan Jessome speaks to the media at a press conference at the union's head office in Burnside.

“The McNeil government is not going to silence the voices of the nurses,” said Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia General and Government Employees’ Union at a press conference Monday. “They’re going to continue to speak up on behalf of patients.”

Mediation between NSGEU Local 97 and Capital Health ended Sunday evening after three days of talks. The union will be in a legal strike position on April 3.

Jessome said there had been movement on some issues, but none on the key point of mandated nurse-to-patient ratios.

She said the ratios will save money by reducing overtime and readmissions, improve patient safety, and working conditions for nurses.

Jessome said the nurses feel strongly enough about it to commit to illegal strike action – and she said mass resignations are still on the table.

“You can go into a daycare and they have ratios. You can go into a classroom and they have ratios,” she said. “It’s irresponsible for this employer and this government not to … have meaningful discussion on something that’s going to create a safer workplace and better patient care.”

Nurse Kerri Webster-McIsaac said she’s “sickened” by the idea of resigning, but said poor working conditions and the associated impact on patients has reached a crisis point.

“It’s awful on some of the floors,” said the 25-year-veteran, who blamed the deteriorating work environment on a chronic nurse shortage. “There’s nurses going home crying, there’s nurses not coming into work because they’re that stressed out.”

Capital Health representatives said the possibility of an illegal strike is “quite concerning.”

But vice-president of people Kathy MacNeil said it’s not enough for the health authority to budge on the “polarizing” issue of mandated nurse-patient ratios.

“In jurisdictions that have experimented with those ratios, it was done through a more consultative process through legislation … not agreed upon in a collective bargaining environment,” she said.

The provincial legislature is scheduled to resume sitting on Thursday, but neither Jessome or MacNeil said they’d had any indication of when or if the Liberal government would table essential services legislation.


Geographic location: Halifax, McNeil

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