Nurses vote for strike Published Friday December 12th, 2008 N.B. nurses could walk off job as early as Dec. 19 A1 By Jesse Robichaud Times & Transcript Staff FREDERICTON - New Brunswick nurses and the Liberal government are moving toward a showdown that could trigger a strike as early as Dec. 19. Nurses voted 94 per cent in favour of strike action this week. Because 71 per cent of New Brunswick's 5,700 nurses deliver services that are considered essential, it is the remaining 1,653 who could walk off the job if government and the union don't hammer out a deal within the next seven days. That means approximately 435 of the roughly 1,500 nurses who work at The Moncton Hospital and the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont Regional Hospital could walk off the job before Christmas. New Brunswick Nurses Union President Marilyn Quinn said that number could be much larger when it is considered that about 30 per cent of nurses' shifts are covered by overtime hours. "We exist on overtime and there is no overtime on strike, so the numbers get skewed," said Quinn. "Some places will be more affected than others, I know the Moncton area relies heavily on overtime today." Quinn said urgent, emergency, and essential services will be maintained in hospitals, but she said clinics and elective surgeries will likely be impacted. "We will always provide emergency and urgent care and critical care in intensive care units. Quite likely clinics will be closed, elective surgeries will be cancelled," said Quinn. Nurses have never gone on strike before in New Brunswick, but they came close in 2004. Nurses voted in favour of a strike that year, but a strike was averted after five days of intense negotiations. Nothing in Quinn's tone suggested that nurses were willing to avoid a strike without concessions on weekend, evening, and night overtime premiums. "We have waited long enough. New Brunswick nurses are now prepared to go to the picket line if that's what it means for working conditions to change," said Quinn. "Nurses need to be respected for that they do evenings, nights and weekends in this province." Quinn said the nurses union will be in contact with other unions to determine how a strike action could be supported, but she said the nurses would not prevent other workers in the province from doing their jobs. "We wouldn't stop other workers from going in because they have responsibilities to fulfill, but we will be in touch with other unions to see how we can support each other." Because nurses have never gone on strike before in New Brunswick, Quinn said they are still some logistical issues to be determined, such as where nurses are entitled to hold their picket lines. "Usually, we wouldn't be right around the main entrance to hospitals on hospital property," said Quinn. "Those are details to be worked out." Minister Rick Brewer made no indications that government would come back with a richer offer than the roughly $91 million deal already offered. He said government is busy readying itself for a strike currently. Regional health authorities and the department of health have put a strike plan in place, in collaboration with the nurses union, to ensure critical services are still provided. "The message that they have given us by their vote is that they will strike, we must prepare for that," said Brewer. Brewer said the deal that was offered to nurses was fair during these times of economic uncertainty. "We had $91.6 million on the table at the time and we had compensation packages for premiums for evenings and weekends and we had for the first time a maternity package bump up of pay." Brewer said there is still hope of avoiding a strike, but he did not sound very enthusiastic about that possibility. After repeating government's plans to prepare for a strike on several occasions, Brewer finally offered some indication that a compromise could be reached. "At this point in time, we are at a point where there will have to come some compromise," said Brewer. "In a situation like this, it has to come from both sides." Quinn said the nurses union has sent a proposal to government and is waiting to begin negotiations.