The strike at the Port Arthur Health Clinic began on April 9. Unifor Local 229, which represents the employees, and clinic management restarted talks on Tuesday.
That produced a tentative agreement, which was ratified by union members on Tuesday evening, and then by the clinic’s board on Wednesday. The two sides then spent most of Wednesday negotiating a back-to-work protocol, which governs how and when the employees will return to the job.
Unifor national president Jerry Dias said the protocol will be signed Thursday, and he expects the employees will be back at work by early next week, at the latest.
“It was a long time coming,” Dias told CBC Thunder Bay’s Superior Morning on Thursday. “This is the best thing for our members, it’s the best thing for the clinic, and it’s by far the best thing for the community, so I’m quite pleased this morning.”
Dias said the new agreement includes wage increases and benefit improvements for the employees (there is some discrepancy in terms of the number of employees who were involved in the strike — the clinic says the agreement affects 57 people, while the union maintains the number is 65, with Dias saying no employees left their jobs during the strike, to the best of his knowledge).
“The bottom line is, I think what was attained is a willingness on both sides to get back to work and to repair this incredibly-fractured relationship,” Dias said. “That has to be the starting point.”
The strike got heated, particularly last week, when the union advised the public and clinic management of its intention to shut the clinic down to pressure the clinic to resume negotiations.
Pickets and supporters surrounded the clinic on Aug. 8, and a temporary fence was set up, preventing people from accessing the clinic. The move effectively shut the clinic down for three days, as management attempted to get a court injunction to stop picketers from preventing anyone from accessing the clinic, and limit their ability to picket on clinic property.
A temporary injunction was granted, with the injunction scheduled to be argued in court on Aug. 10. However, when the two sides returned to court, they instead met behind closed doors to discuss the strike, which led to Tuesday’s formal negotiations.
Thunder Bay police also became involved after a man leaving the clinic with his daughter was allegedly struck in the face by male picketer on Aug. 7.
Police also responded to an alarm at the clinic just before 6 a.m. on Aug. 10. There, officers found an electrical box on the outside of the building which had allegedly been tampered with, causing a loss of power to the clinic.
Dias said the union and clinic management will now have regular meetings “so that this type of animosity doesn’t build over time.”
He said those meetings were written into the newly-signed collective agreement: the two sides will hold at least four “major” meetings each year, Dias said.