TWO NIGHTS AND DAYS OF WAITING DIDN’T HELP. The 4000 nursing home workers in New Brunswick are still waiting for a contract and waiting to find out if their Charter right to strike will be honoured.
Ten members of CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) sat waiting through two nights and days, May 1 to 4, outside the Fredericton office of social development minister Dorothy Shephard. They wanted to talk to the minister face-to-face. To get some movement on their stalled contract talks. She never gave them that chance.
The sit-in ended quietly, without fanfare. The only hiccup came on day one when security officers said they would not allow any delivery of food, toiletries or medication to the union members. Things got heated as security barred supporters, the news media, and some opposition Liberal members of the legislature from getting into the building.
Cooler heads prevailed. No other efforts were made to force those sitting-in to leave. The union members decided to stop waiting for the minister mid-morning on their third day.
Shephard said the sit-in amounted to “bullying” of social development employees and it disrupted her department’s ability to operate.
“I’m sorry. We’re nursing home workers,” said Sharon Teare, president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Homes Unions. “We’re not bullies. We would never bully other workers. But we have to take these kinds of actions because we’re tired and we’re being bullied in the court system.”
Teare said the union representatives will return to the bargaining table on May 9, but that was not the purpose of their decision to sit in.
“A bargaining day means nothing,” Teare said.
Rights in limbo
The 4000 nursing home workers remain stuck in legal limbo.
In early March, the workers voted 90 per cent in favour of a strike. The labour board confirmed they had that right. The board held that provincial legislation that denies nursing home workers that right is unconstitutional.
Then a three-justice panel ordered a judicial review of the labour board decision.
That leaves the workers with no choice but to go back to bargaining with a government unwilling to consider any union proposals.
Binding arbitration refused
The union is prepared to settle the contract with binding arbitration.
“All we want to do is go to binding arbitration with no parameters. And have an arbitrator tell us what we’re worth,” said Tammy Nadeau, who was protesting outside Rocmaura Nursing Home in Saint John.
“They haven’t taken us seriously in a very long time,” she said.
“The government is forgetting about us,” said her colleague Cindy Gillette.
Premier Blaine Higgs has said the province would agree to binding arbitration only if the arbitrator took into account the wages of similar jobs in the public and private sectors.
The union says binding arbitration, by definition, cannot include any preconditions.
Minority government vulnerable
Sandy Harding, CUPE regional director for the Maritimes, said the union will seek support from other parties. “Higgs and Shephard aren’t worth our time anymore,” she said.
Harding said the union will look to get support from the opposition and the People’s Alliance party.
“This is a minority government, which Higgs seems to have forgotten. So we’re going to work on those other elected officials.”
A statement released by CUPE said that People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin has committed to meeting the union bargaining team.
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