With 12,000 nurses of all designations registered with the Manitoba Nurses Union, 11,954 members — or 98 per cent of the membership — voted in favour of a strike, the union said in a release Thursday.
The turnout was conducted virtually and was higher than any turnout in the history of the MNU.
"We are so proud of our members, they really have sent a strong message with this strike mandate," stated MNU president Darlene Jackson in the news release. "We were painted into a corner by this government, and we were left with no choice but to act."
Nurses have gone more than four years without a contract. Since then, the cost of living in Manitoba has risen 7.9 per cent.
Nurses in the province also received the lowest evening and weekend premiums from Quebec west.
Despite meeting more than 30 times since October 2020, the employer’s side had displayed an unwillingness to provide solutions and accept proposals on what has become the most substantial issue facing nurses today and for the future: The recruitment and retention of nurses.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has made worse what was already bad," the release stated.
In the fall sitting of the legislature, the Progressive Conservative government plans to pass Bill 16. This would change The Labour Relations Act regarding the use of arbitration to settle collective bargaining disputes that have led to work stoppages.
"We will now be discussing next steps with our provincial collective bargaining committee," Jackson stated. "Our commitment, as always, is to our patients, and Manitobans can be assured that we will not be disrupting patient care."
When asked for his response to the Manitoba Nurses Union voting in favour of a strike mandate in Thursday’s press conference to announce a phased-in reopening of the province, the premier responded: "We’re going to continue to negotiate but not in the media. We’ve spent two years of the last four years sorting out the bargaining structures to get them down to the point where they look more like the rest of the country.
"Frankly, we had 150 plus in the WRHA alone of the bargaining structure so that took some time. And I thank all the unions that were involved in that partnership and that discussion for achieving the goal of bringing us down to a better structure. Now we have to use that structure to negotiate, but I won’t be doing that through the media."
He was also questioned about a contingency plan in the event of a strike.
"It won’t come to that, I believe," Pallister said. "I don’t think the nurses want that to happen. But that being said, I want to see the negotiations continue. Negotiations are negotiations, and they have to happen.They’re never pretty and they’re not going to happen in the media."
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew weighed in on the premier’s comments saying a nurses’ strike would send a clear message to the provincial government.
"They’re fed up with the mistreatment by this government, and they’re trying to get arbitration because they view arbitration as the only way they can get a fair deal under the Pallister government," Kinew said. "I think nurses across the province, in Brandon, in Westman are going to be still delivering care at the bedside, even in a work-to-rule situation."
» firstname.lastname@example.org, with files from Colin Slark