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It’s taken years but forcing their employer to pay up for pay equity maintenance is about to pay off for former CUPE Local 576 women members who worked for the Civic Hospital before Ottawa’s hospitals amalgamated in 1998.

It’s a great win,” says Donna Panke, former union chair on the pay equity maintenance committee. “The employer systematically and knowingly ghettoized these jobs for years.”

The pay out means ward clerks and Registered Practical Nurses – positions held by a majority of the members – who had been earning $16.11 an hour are increased to $16.81. The 70-cents an hour increase, retroactive to November 1990 and covering existing and former members, means some women will receive cheques for thousands of dollars owed them. The new contract adds an additional 9 per cent on the pay equity rate.

The settlement, which has a potential pay out of more than $4 million, was reached at the beginning of March when the employer, the now merged Ottawa Hospital, stopped fighting a pay equity compliance order obtained by CUPE.

Job Evaluation rep Gail Wright, who worked with the local, says she is thrilled to finally see the women win their fight for justice. So is staff rep Jean-Marc Bezaire.

The employer had done everything in its power not to comply and it’s thanks to Donna and others who actively pushed the issue since 1996 that we have such a great settlement,” Bezaire says.

Panke says the win has righted a ten-year wrong and is an important victory for the women workers. Many work side-by-side with nurses but receive only half the pay and recognition.

It’s a good validation of the power that women have if they want to pursue an issue,” says Panke. “And a reminder that the union is only as strong as the active participants in it.”