Kingston area front-line nurses picket to support ‘better staffing, better wages, and better care’

Members of the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) and other unions picketed in front of Kingston General Hospital (KGH) on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023. “ONA and other unions stood strong on Stuart Street today in an All-Out Picket for Better Staffing, Better Wages and Better Care,” said Annette Saccon, ONA Local 99 Bargaining Unit President, in a statement. Submitted photo.

Front-line registered nurses (RNs) and other health-care professionals in Kingston joined their colleagues across Ontario on picket lines today, calling for “better staffing, better wages, and better care.”

Local pickets were held at Kingston General Hospital (KGH) on Stuart Street and in front of Hotel Dieu Hospital (HDH) on Brock Street. The ‘All-Out Pickets’ organized by ONA are the second in a series of escalating actions that support contract negotiations focusing on the theme of ‘Better Staffing, Better Wages, and Better Care.’ Joined by their labour partners and community members, the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) members voiced their demands and showed their support for their bargaining team, which is now in negotiations for a new hospital-sector contract.

“ONA and other unions stood strong on Stuart Street today,” said Annette Saccon, ONA Local 99 Bargaining Unit President, in a statement.

It’s important to note that this was not a strike action. Instead, according to Saccon, the hope was that staff who were at work would take a few minutes of their break time to join their colleagues in support, or for anyone who was not working Thursday to come and join the effort at the Kingston picket locations from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. outside the KGH and HDH sites.

“Our incredible RNs and health-care professionals have organized pickets in front of hospitals and Conservative MPPs’ offices. Our members have signalled that they will not tolerate the unsafe staffing, wage suppression, or heavy workloads that are responsible for our members’ increasing inability to provide the best patient care possible,” ONA Interim Provincial President Bernie Robinson, RN, explained in a provincial news release.

“We are demanding that hospital CEOs and the Ontario Hospital Association put patients first – by negotiating a better contract with nurses and health-care professionals. Without significant improvements, our public hospital care will continue to suffer.”

Robinson pointed out, “Many nurses are leaving their jobs because of the intolerable working conditions. They are leaving because their wages have been eroded by three years of [Premier Doug] Ford’s unconstitutional wage cap and the rising cost of living, while hospitals use private, for-profit nursing agencies that cost taxpayers two to three times more than public-sector nurses. A better contract means we can retain, recruit, and attract nurses back to the system.”

ONA is the union representing more than 68,000 nurses and other health-care professionals, as well as 18,000 nursing student affiliates, all of whom provide care in hospitals, long-term care facilities, public health, the community, industry, and clinics.

Ontario’s 60,000 front-line hospital nurses and allied health-care professionals – members of ONA – are negotiating a new contract with their employers, the Ontario Hospital Association.

ONA’s elected bargaining team is putting forward a large number of demands based on feedback from thousands of ONA members who filled out a bargaining survey, their website indicates to members: “Your bargaining team is pushing hard because they know firsthand what’s at stake… By supporting a better contract for hospital nurses, we can help ensure all Ontarians get the care they need and deserve… Investing in nurses is the best way to improve access to timely, safe, and quality hospital care. It’s time to value nurses and the patients they care for.”

On Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, ONA Chief Negotiator Steve Lobsinger described the issues before him in a letter to members, stating, “There’s no question that Ontario’s struggling health-care system has been fraught with problems these past few years: the worst nursing crisis in decades, forced wage caps, and a global pandemic that turned our health-care workforce on its head.”

Lobsinger expressed hope that the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) and hospital CEOs would address these problems in the next collective agreement. “My hope is that the OHA and the hospitals understand where our members are coming from and are forthcoming to make changes that reflect the value and dedication of our membership. Our members have faced Bill 124 [wage-suppression legislation introduced by the Conservative government in 2019] for three years, which means this new collective agreement can be negotiated freely without government restraints. The Bill 124 barrier has now been removed.”

“The results of [our] bargaining survey made clear that our members experience extreme workloads that impact providing safe patient care. Our next agreement needs to deal with workload problems with safe staffing as well as additional supports.”

Lobsinger further said that ONA’s bargaining proposals “outline concrete ways in which hospitals can retain and attract nurses… Our members are integral in educating the public about the real issues that are happening in health care. It’s the public who stands to suffer if real changes are not made.”

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