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Nurses’ knuckles rapped over illegal strike 

Captial Health’s disciplinary measures include written assignments explaining actions

click to enlarge Joan Jessome speaks to gathered nurses on April 3. - NSGEU
  • Joan Jessome speaks to gathered nurses on April 3.
  • NSGEU

Capital Health is punishing nurses for playing hooky. Following an illegal strike April 1, some nurses who walked off the job are being suspended for two shifts without pay and have been told to write "personal reflections," due June 5, on how their actions affected patients.

On April 1, nurses left their duties to protest Bill 37, a piece of legislation that requires employers to sign off on an essential services plan before unionized healthcare workers can strike.

The Coast spoke to two nurses who said some of them had a system to cover each other's duties on April 1---though that wasn't true of all nurses. As of Tuesday, 172 nurses (plus two non-nurses) sat down for disciplinary meetings, as required by the collective agreement. Capital Health said some had not participated in the strike, so not all would face consequences. Forty nurses were being asked to write essays on their actions.

Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, called the suspension "extreme," pointing out that an illegal two-and-a-half day strike in 2001 prompted letters on nurses' files, but no suspensions.

A nurse who was suspended for two days and told to write a personal reflection says she felt compelled to leave her job April 1 because the province planned to pass Bill 37 on April 4, the day healthcare workers were in a legal strike position.

"A lot of us have likened it to being back in junior high and having to write lines on the chalkboard," she says of the assignment that asks nurses to review their professional standards and code of ethics. She and her co-workers worried Capital Health would send the essays to the College of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia, which could revoke their licenses. Capital Health promised that wouldn't happen, then on Tuesday backed off on its request for the essays.

In preparation for a potential illegal walkout, Capital Health cancelled 19 surgeries, and on April 1 cancelled another 70, says spokesperson Bruce English. Some patients were moved because they couldn't be cared for in understaffed units, he said.

A woman who was scheduled for an abortion the week following the strike says she experienced anxiety, worrying her appointment would be postponed or cancelled. She didn't want her name printed due to the controversy around the procedure. Ultimately her appointment was not delayed, but it seemed to her the hospital did not have a solid plan in place, and the constantly changing information the week of the strike confused her.

Experiencing severe morning sickness and other health problems that could not be treated until after the abortion, she considered driving to a New Brunswick clinic to have the procedure there instead.

The nurse, who does not work in the unit where abortions are performed, felt compassion for the woman. "That's a sin," she says. "I'm not at all happy she had to go through that."

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