Nurses walk off the job in Sarnia, Ont and are now on strike

Nurses at the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) in Sarnia, Ont. are now on strike.

The team of 24 nurses walked off the job at 8 a.m. Saturday morning after their contract demands were not met by their employer.

"We're asking for 1%, it works out to about $.22 cents an hour," says Deborah Kostiw, a registered practical nurse (RPN) with VON.

The VON RPN's who care for high-needs patients in both homes and schools have been without a contract since 2019.

"The employer made a couple offers one of them requiring concessions, significant concessions and forcing them to lose their autonomy here," says Ken Sharpe, director of field operations for Liuna Local 3000.

"Even though VON can give them one per cent total compensation, they're choosing not to. Not because they can't, not because they can't afford it, not because they don't want to simply because they don't want to set the precedent going forward for negotiations in the rest of the province".

Sharpe says VON offered a zero wage increase in year one, and 1 per cent in year two, but no daily overtime and no increase in mileage rates.

"VON has refused negotiations with their union to provide them all with paid sick leave, health benefits, bereavement leave, fair overtime compensation, or a reasonable wage increase," says Sharpe.

"Currently we're covered under Bill 124, which prohibits the employer from giving any more than one per cent total compensation. What we're asking for one per cent in each year of the contract. VON has come back and offered them what is essentially for a full time nurse $218. That is less than $5 a week to do the work that they do every day in the middle of a global pandemic".

CTV News has reached out to the employer and a statement was issued.

"This is a challenging time for everyone. We are working closely with our community partners on contingency plans to limit any potential impact on our clients and their families. VON employees are at the heart of everything we do. We value and respect their work and have a strong commitment to fairness. VON is fully committed to the bargaining process, and to continuing to work toward a resolution," a VON spokesperson said in the statement.

In Sarnia there are two categories of nurses, Visiting nurses and Shift nurses. The shift nurses spend a lot of time in schools taking are of vulnerable children while visiting nurses are in the community seeing people in their homes.

"We may be the only people that they see a week," says Kostiw.

"We are their connection to the world. We come in here for them we care for them like they're our own. But that means that we are compromised. It means that our safety is at risk but that's our job and we do it, but we should be paid fairly for that".

The team of 24 local nurses and Union representatives will take turns picketing in front of the VON office on London Line in Sarnia wearing masks and physically distancing until a new deal is reached.

"What we're going to do is we're going to keep it very small and respectful," says Sharpe.

"We want to be respectful of the businesses around here, respectful of the fact that we're in the middle of a global pandemic. You can see everyone's wearing the appropriate PPE and socially distancing".

Sharpe adds that they want the strike to end quickly, but with a fair deal.

"The nurses are putting their lives on the line every single day they go to work," says Sharpe.