Manitoba nurses are voting until 10 a.m. Thursday on a strike action their union hopes will trigger binding arbitration with the provincial government.
Nurses won't be pulled off the front lines of COVID-19 treatment if the strike vote passes — staggered work-to-rule actions have been proposed to keep patient care going.
The goal is to get the government to binding arbitration, not to disrupt the health-care system in a pandemic, said Manitoba Nurses' Union president Darlene Jackson.
"It is not about disrupting patient care, it's not about pulling services, it's about getting us to interest arbitration," Jackson said.
Manitoba nurses have been without a contract for more than four years. Bargaining for a new collective agreement began last October, but the union said it couldn't secure a deal with the government, and the labour group's request to start voluntary interest arbitration with the province Sept. 1 was turned down.
The union still wants arbitration and sees the threat of a strike as the way to achieve that.
Under Manitoba labour laws, binding arbitration is triggered after 60 days of strike action. Proposed changes to the Labour Relations Act under Bill 16, which is set to be back before the legislature this fall, would remove that.
That's why the strike vote is happening now, Jackson said, as nurses deal with overwhelming workloads and mandated overtime.
"We're in a position now where we have to take action, but I do want to reassure the public and reassure families and patients that this is not intended to, nor do we believe it will, disrupt patient care. That's not what we're about."
The results of the strike vote are expected to be announced Thursday.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.