More than 80 nurses at the Windsor Essex County Health Unit will be in a strike position as of March 8.

A strike looms for the nurse practioners, registered practical nurses and public health nurses as their union says they have been working without a contract since March 31, 2018.

According to the Ontario Nurses Association, contract talks have broken down and a second conciliation hearing will take place on February 28.

The first meeting took place on February 1.

ONA President Vicki McKenna says the health unit nurses provide a wide range of services to close to 500,000 residents in Windsor and Essex County.

“Our highly educated members work to improve and maintain the health of their communities by providing services such as chronic disease and injury prevention, infectious disease monitoring and prevention, maternal health and healthy families programs, needs assessments for their communities, healthy schools programs, substance use and mental health programs,” says McKenna.

The nurses are also responsible for school vaccination programs, and monitor for, investigate and control infectious disease outbreaks.

The main issue in the negotiations is money, but the union says it’s a larger issue.

The ONA says “the pay disparity between male-dominated professions like police and firefighters and the female-dominated nursing profession is enormous and growing, clearly making the dispute a gender-based issue.”

The union adds if they do not get a deal through conciliation, the nurses will be in a legal strike position in early March.

“Our dedicated nurses do not want to be forced out on strike and leave their community at risk in case of an outbreak of infectious disease,” says McKenna. “We hope that an additional conciliation date will be successful.”

Local nurses held a picket before Wednesday’s meeting of Essex County Council.