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Nurses reject tentative deal

by Sophie Kuijper Dickson
Quebec
Apr. 13, 2024
The province’s largest nurses’ union has voted to reject the tentative deal the union reached with the government in March.
The Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), the union representing over 80,000 nurses and healthcare specialists in the province, recommended its members support the agreement in principle in March, after 16 months of negotiations and several different mobilization actions, including eight days of strikes late last year.
During three days of electronic voting from Apr. 10-12, 61 per cent of the union members who participated in the vote decided the agreement was not good enough. Voter turnout was 77 per cent.
On the last day of voting, Shawville nurse Trish White Milford told THE EQUITY she had heard from many nurses who were not sure they were going to support the agreement.
“Honestly there were a lot of us that were talking about it and it’s hard to say yes or no to either because we don’t want to end up losing out what’s there if we vote no, but then if we vote yes, it’s not everything that we want either,” she said.
“We could end up loosing everything we’ve already fought for so it’s kind of a tough situation and people are on the fence.”
She said the salary offer of 17.4 per cent remained a sticking point for people she was hearing from.
“Most people want a little bit more of a pay raise,” White Milford said, noting the salary offer was often compared to the 21 per cent salary increase the province offered police officers in September – an offer that was rejected.

She said one win she could see in the tentative agreement was that the province would cover 50 per cent of the cost of license renewal nurses have to pay every year.
A big anxiety for White Milford as she watched the negotiations unfold was what would happen with province’s desire to force nurses to work in communities other than their own.
“I’ve worked in Shawville only so if I come into work and they decide to tell me ‘Trish you’re going to Maniwaki in ICU’, well I’m not comfortable doing that,” she said.
“My position is in Shawville. If I wanted to work somewhere else I would apply somewhere else or work as an agency nurse.”
She said she had heard that the union had managed to take forced relocation out of the final tentative agreement, in exchange for a reduced salary increase.
THE EQUITY did not hear back from Pontiac or Outaouais representatives for the union to confirm this before publication deadline.
Caroline Presseau has worked as a nurse in Shawville for 25 years, 15 of which were in the hospital’s now closed obstetrics unit.
“It’s a big deal that [the agreement] was refused,” she said, noting that she believes most of her colleagues did not have their heads around the minutia of the details they were voting on.
She said the union made a two-hour presentation earlier this month in which it ran through at least 20 different issues addressed in the new tentative deal.
“There are so many clauses, it’s unreal.”
For Presseau, the agreement’s salary offer was the greatest disapointment out of all the changes it proposed.
The 17.4 per cent increase would not have made a difference to her, as she has already reached the highest pay level possible, but she believes a better offer would make a difference to the region’s ability to retain young nurses.
“The only thing we need, it’s to get more staff. And there’s a few things that need to be changed to make that possible, because everybody is just exhausted now,” she said, noting a salary increase beyond the tabled amount is most critical to this ambition.
According to the FIQ press release from Mar. 19 when the tentative deal was first reached, the deal also included a new framework for mandatory overtime, which was only to be used in emergencies, funds dedicated to relieving the surgery backlog across the province, a commitment by the government to gradually implement patient-worker ratios, as well as bonuses for the critical holiday and summer periods.
In a statement posted to its website following the vote, FIQ said “in the next few days and weeks, we will review the situation with your union representatives and return to the bargaining table.”
In a comment made on social media platform X following the rejection of the tentative agreement, the president of Quebec’s treasury board Sonia LeBel acknowledged the decision.
“We are going to meet with the union to understand what is wrong,” LeBel wrote in french. “However, the context and our objectives will remain the same, particularly in terms of flexibility.”