Doctors and nurses at eight North America hospitals are circulating a video online calling on newly licensed nurses to join the Canadian Nurses’ Association’s national strike action. It’s time to strike, they declare in the video. Nurses should also engage in political activity as well.
Behind the audio of the video is a projector screen filled with signs reading “Fight. Be Aware. Move. Talk.” It’s meant to drive home the point that nurses and other patient care workers are fighting for issues that are their own, even as all they see are the faces of suffering patients waiting for hours on stretchers.
“From where I sit, this strike is the nurses’ and their colleagues’ attempt to address the problems of accessibility, bullying, the privatization of services and maternity care, and treatment of newcomers,” states Dr. Jenny Morris, an Emergency Department physician at Saint Thomas, England, and principal of Wakefield School of Nursing in Canada.
“I love working in the ED because of the respect and the social isolation that we have within the department,” says Julie Aubert, a Certified Nursing Assistant at Elgin, Ontario, who is not on strike. “I don’t have many friends or family here. My organization is lacking. I am working in a culture that is not accepting of anybody getting bullied. Nobody gets paid their proper amount. … If this strike doesn’t get people into action then I really don’t know what will.”
This discontent may well prompt nurses to leave the profession altogether. Between 1999 and 2013, North America saw an average of 1,900 nurses leave each year, according to a report released by the School of Nursing at the University of British Columbia.
“People might not be able to survive the first couple of years without earning their wage and not being able to pay rent. … That’s a little concerning for the people that need us,” Aubert says.
Some nurses have already left nursing entirely.
“We make really good money and we’re all so happy,” says Tamara King, a registered nurse from Ottawa, Ontario, who left the profession to work as a contract worker. “Then when we started to realize that our pay wasn’t the same as everybody else’s, we started thinking, ‘This isn’t a happy place for me right now.’ ”
Whether or not the strike succeeds in getting more of Canada’s healthcare workers off the picket lines and into leadership positions — or even at all — the event is already placing pressure on the government to address its concerns.
“Nobody wants to go on strike,” another nurse says. “But we have a responsibility to fight and to fight hard for what we believe in.”