Thousands gather in Toronto for massive protest supporting Ontario nurses
Solidarity was the word of the day at a mass healthcare protest in downtown Toronto this week, as thousands of medical professionals, labour allies, politicians and other supporters of the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) gathered to demand better staffing, better wages and better care for patients at hospitals across the province.
Hey @fordnation, we've got thousands of nurses, health-care professionals, friends, family, labour siblings, educators, and allies here who'd like to have a word about #BetterStaffingBetterCare. Got any time in your busy schedule to #SupportNurses? #onpoli pic.twitter.com/dZ1FRyCWBj— Ontario Nurses' Association (@ontarionurses) March 2, 2023
The long, loud day of action kicked off with a rally on Thursday afternoon outside the Sheraton Centre Hotel, where mediation talks were being held between the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) and the nurse's union.
The ONA, which represents more than 68,000 registered nurses in Ontario, has been bargaining for a new contract with the OHA, which represents 140 public hospitals (their employers), since January.
Nurses are seeking better staffing, better working conditions and better wages after more than a decade of wage stagnation and occupational chaos.
Nurses lead. They show the public and professional frustration of years of inadequate funding and support. They capture the anger and frustration we all feel. They capture why ER is a hellzone for too many. @ontarionurses @OntariosDoctors https://t.co/LLNKAsyqKq— Raghu Venugopal MD (@raghu_venugopal) March 2, 2023
This is the first collective agreement to be negotiated between nurses and their provincially-funded employers since the COVID-19 pandemic, and since the passage of 2019's controversial Bill 124.
Wages are of particular concern for nurses in light of Bill 124, which caps annual wage hikes for many public sector workers in Ontario (nurses included) at one per cent.
🧵Scenes from the mass demonstration happening now, led by hundreds of @ontarionurses members, in downtown #Toronto #BetterCare #SupportNurses #EnoughIsEnoughON #justice4workers #RepealBill124 #GeneralStrikeON #onpoli #onlab #canlab pic.twitter.com/roQw11ktKv— James Clark (@2JamesClark) March 2, 2023
"A better contract for nurses is the single best thing we can do to address staffing issues and improve our public hospital care for patients," said ONA Interim Provincial President and RN Bernie Robinson at the event on Thursday.
"Nurses demand better – for our patients, communities and health care. The community united with us to voice just how urgent the need for a better contract is."
What do we do when nurses are under attack? SHOW UP FIGHT BACK! So much thanks today & EVERY day for @ontarionurses & the INVALUABLE work they do. TY @CLCOntario & @torontolabour for your SOLIDARITY in this fight for #BetterStaffingBetterCare. I #SupportNurses! #ONPoli #ONLab pic.twitter.com/zqAn5qdJXe— Dr. Jill Andrew, PhD (she/her) (@JILLSLASTWORD) February 23, 2023
In a release following Thursday's protest, the ONA argued that "a better contract with wages that account for more than a decade without a real increase would help stabilize staffing, bring nurses back and attract people into nursing."
Standing in #solidarity today with nurses outside the Sheraton Hotel in Toronto standing up against Doug Ford's unconscionable healthcare privatization scheme.— Joel Harden (@JoelHardenONDP) March 2, 2023
Take notice @fordnation and @SylviaJonesMPP - nurses are rising up and fighting back. #ONpoli #RepealBill124 pic.twitter.com/wpwpBzb8nL
Nurses say that more of the same "inadequate working conditions" will worsen Ontario's existing hospital staffing crisis and lead to even longer wait times.
The status quo, according to the ONA, also opens the door "for more of Premier Doug Ford's wasteful privatization measures that only benefit for-profit companies, at the expense of average Ontarians already struggling to pay the bills."
"@fordnation has called nurses and health-care professionals 'health care heroes' while you had to struggle to make ends meet after #Bill124NoMore."@maritstiles and @OntarioNDP showing they #SupportNurses #OnPoli pic.twitter.com/DvERXGxEF3— Ontario Nurses' Association (@ontarionurses) March 2, 2023
Protesters took this message with them as the marched along University Avenue, passing through hospital row before staging another rally at Queen's Park.
Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of thousands of protesters and advocates, the OHA and ONA did not come to an agreement by the end of their two-day bargaining session on Thursday night.
The groups are now scheduled to enter arbitration in early May.
🧵5/ ONA would have preferred to have reached a negotiated contract; the last time that happened in Ontario for hospital-sector ONA members was 2011. #SupportNurses #onpoli @fordnation @OntHospitalAssn pic.twitter.com/yeS7lEGTgM— Ontario Nurses' Association (@ontarionurses) March 3, 2023
"This round of negotiations has been incredibly difficult and frustrating," said Robinson on Friday morning. "Nurses are fed up with this government and employers expressing appreciation for the work we do, while simultaneously failing to provide working conditions that that truly show the value of what we do each day."
Rachel Muir, registered nurse and chair of the Hospital Central Negotiating Team, said similarly on Friday that "ONA's team is astonished, insulted and enraged that, despite our best efforts, we have been unable to reach a respectful settlement to bring to our members."
Better wages = Better staffing = Better care! Nurses deserve respect and a fair contract. I was proud to join thousands of nurses & their allies today along with @ontariondp caucus to say #EnoughisEnough. Ford’s Conservatives should value nurses & repeal #Bill124. #OnPoli pic.twitter.com/FzqqtT4zTx— Kristyn Wong-Tam (@kristynwongtam) March 2, 2023
"The need to recruit and retain nurses is more urgent than it’s ever been. Our nurses and health-care professionals are highly educated and valued by employers in other jurisdictions," said Robinson after the contract talks broke down.
"They have options – and are leaving the profession, the public sector or the province to work where they receive respect. The actions of this provincial government and now the failure to come to the table with a decent proposal by employers will have profoundly negative consequences for Ontarians and our health-care system."
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