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thestar (Feb 4) Ontario nurses walk away from contract talks

Nurses working in Ontario's overcrowded hospitals have walked away from the contract negotiations, saying demands for “efficiencies” will impact patients and staff, says the president of the Ontario Nurses' Association.

Vicki McKenna said ONA ended 10 days of negotiations and three days of mediation on Saturday because the Ontario Hospital Association wouldn't budge from its focus on “efficiencies.”

“That means work harder, faster, quicker with fewer (staff,)” McKenna said.

“I have to keep reminding them to stop trying to industrialize health care. And our product, if you want to talk about business theories, is people. When you are caring for people, you have to look at things in a more humanized way. That is not a conversation they are willing to have with us.”

The 58,000 registered nurses who work in Ontario hospitals won't be taking job action but will be speaking out publicly about the state of hospitals and the challenges faced by nurses and patients, McKenna said.

In a statement emailed to the Star, the hospital association said it is “disappointed that negotiations... have reached an impasse.

“All hospitals across Ontario value the hard work and dedication of all our employees,” the statement said.

“Our objective is to reach an agreement that is both fair to nurses and reflective of the challenges facing the hospital sector today. Negotiations in this environment are never easy but we remain committed to reaching an agreement that achieves this balance.”
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The two sides will meet again on Feb. 26 and 27 when they meet with a arbitrator, McKenna said. The current two-year contract expires on March 1, although nurses will use the same agreement until the arbitrator releases his decision, likely in April, she said.

In December, the hospital association pleaded with the provincial government for extra funding, saying the hospital sector is “heaving under enormous pressure...” Ontario’s Health Minister Eric Hoskins responded with a promise of extra funding during flu seasons.

McKenna acknowledges that hospital funding has been a “hot button” issue for a very long time but said financial decisions must be focused on patients and staff.

“If we make decisions on what is best for patients, I believe the rest will fall into place.”

The nurses’ association “heavily surveys” its members and the results show nurses have two priorities: workload and professional issues, like job safety and patient care, McKenna said.

She would not give specific details on nurses’ demands, but said they don't want cuts to benefits and are seeking a wage increase so their salaries don’t “fall behind” the rest of Canada.

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