Staff at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital in Montreal protest ban on sit-ins — with a sit-in

Staff at the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital protested a ban on sit-ins with a 'symbolic' sit-in Friday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Staff at the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital protested a ban on sit-ins with a 'symbolic' sit-in Friday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The health authority for eastern Montreal says it will no longer tolerate sit-ins as protest tactics by health-care staff in its jurisdiction.

In an internal memo sent to employees Wednesday, the CIUSSS-de-l'Est-de-l'Île-de-Montréal said that, starting today, it will challenge employees in court if they resort "to this illegal means of pressure."

"If a sit-in occurs, we will appeal to the Administrative Labor Tribunal, which has the power to intervene. First in conciliation, then to order the return to work of the staff under penalty of contempt of court," the internal memo said.

Nurses at Maisonneuve-Rosement Hospital (MRH) promptly responded by holding a sit-in at noon, just hours before the new rule was due to take effect.

"I was surprised and shocked by the directive," said Denis Cloutier, the president of the union that represents nurses in eastern Montreal, in an interview with Radio-Canada's Tout un matin.

Cloutier said he was flooded with comments from employees of the CIUSSS network, who were also shocked.

"The health-care professionals have holding up this network with their hard work for years," said Cloutier.

"When [nurses] hold sit-ins, it's because they are faced with situations where they feel they are unable to provide quality care to their patients."

The sit-ins are intended to "force employers to organize to find more people," so that nurses can provide safe care, and the "threatening tone" used just before the summer period "does not sit well," he said.

The memo from the CIUSS said the protests — such as the one this past winter at MRH's emergency room to protest staffing levels — "highlighted the need for action to counter the sit-ins."

At the time, the CIUSSS recommended people avoid the hospital's ER, citing a serious shortage of staff. The ER was then closed to the population, except for cases considered "unstable."

A hundred nurses threatened to resign and an external mediator was appointed to resolve the crisis.

Concern for the public

In this week's note, management said it cannot allow service to the public to be compromised by such tactics.

The hospital's management also said the hours lost to temporary work stoppages will not be paid and they will be coded as strikes. Other disciplinary measures could be imposed, it said.

The CIUSSS declined interview requests made by Radio-Canada. However a spokesperson for the health authority acknowledged that the tone of the note "was not the right one."

"Saying, 'I'm taking away your right to do this, and I'm going to accuse you on every platform if you ever go ahead' is an approach that doesn't work and it risks leading to more resignations," said the union's Cloutier.

Cloutier pointed out that the memorandum is addressed to all employees of the CIUSSS de l'Est-de-l'Île-de-Montréal. The sit-ins have mostly affected Maisonneuve-Rosement and Santa Cabrini Hospital.