04/15/2014 03:32 EDT | Updated 06/15/2014 05:59 EDT

Halifax nurses who walked off job before legal strike position to be interviewed

HALIFAX - Nurses who walked off the job before they were in a legal position to do so earlier this month are being asked to explain their actions, Nova Scotia's largest health authority said Tuesday.

John Gillis, a spokesman for the Capital District Health Authority, said meetings have been scheduled with about 150 unionized registered nurses to discuss their roles in an illegal strike Apr. 1.

The Nova Scotia Labour Board issued a cease-and-desist order later that day after some nurses did not report for their shifts, which forced the cancellation of dozens of surgeries as tensions rose ahead of a legal strike that was ended by essential-services legislation three days later.

Gillis said following the meetings, hospital officials will review the facts to determine whether discipline is warranted. He said there are no pre-determined disciplinary actions.

"We communicated to members ahead of the illegal strike about potential consequences of breaches of the collective agreement," said Gillis in an email.

He said activities that will be investigated include whether union members failed to show up for a scheduled shift or whether they were genuinely ill when some called in sick.

Gillis said disciplinary measures could include suspensions or letters of reprimand.

Interim NDP Leader Maureen MacDonald raised the issue in the legislature Tuesday, saying the authority shouldn't act in a way that will worsen morale and damage work relations with its nurses after their contract dispute.

Outside the house, MacDonald said nurses don't believe their concerns are being addressed.

"I can't see this process repairing what clearly is a relationship that is tenuous at best," said MacDonald.

But Premier Stephen McNeil said the issue is for the workers and their employer to sort out.

"Clearly anyone knows that if you are taking illegal job action there's consequences to that," McNeil said. "I'm sure they would have thought through that process as employees and the employer now is acting on their right."

Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, which represents 2,400 nurses in the Halifax area, said the move by management is an unnecessary intimidation tactic.

"This was a bad experience for a lot of people," said Jessome. "Let's get over it and see what we can do to mend the relationship."

The nurses who were involved in the contract dispute primarily work at four places in the Halifax area: the QEII Health Sciences Centre, Nova Scotia Hospital, East Coast Forensic Hospital and Public Health Services.