Approximately 50,000 workers are employed in hospital-based occupations in Toronto, represented by unions like the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).
In the winter of 1981, 14,000 CUPE hospital workers across the province walked off their jobs in an illegal strike against the Ontario Hospital Association. They were frustrated in their fight for wage and benefits improvements by legislation denying hospital workers the right to strike. They also felt that changes in hospital organization made it more difficult to care adequately for patients.
The largely female workforce proceeded to defy provincial back-to-work legislation for eight days. Government reprisals were staggering: 3,400 suspensions; 5,500 letters of reprimand; 34 dismissals. CUPE president Grace Hartmann was sentenced to 45 days in jail; two other CUPE officials, Lucy Nicholson and Ray Arsenault, also served jail time.
The strike mobilized hospital workers to resist staffing and program cuts, and to improve their working conditions and provincial health care standards.