New Brunswick

Hospital laundry workers ordered back to work

Workers responsible for doing a large share of the province’s hospital and nursing home laundry have been ordered to get back to work.

Walkout deemed illegal by New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board

No unionized workers were working at Saint John Laundry on Thursday, but they were ordered back on Friday. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

Workers responsible for doing a large share of the province's hospital and nursing home laundry have been ordered back to work.

CUPE members walked off the job Wednesday after a clash between management and union representatives.

Workers protested for two days outside the government-run plant in west Saint John.

They were back on the job Friday following a ruling from the Labour and Employment Board vice-chair John McEvoy that the walkout was illegal.

The province filed the complaint against Saint John Laundry workers Thursday. 

Saint John Laundry workers blocked entry to multiple trucks going into the plant on Thursday morning but eventually stepped aside. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

Service New Brunswick Minister Sherry Wilson said in a statement that the province is pleased with the decision.

"The government is committed to resolving the issues that led to the illegal walkout," she said. "However, there will be consequences for those CUPE members who chose not to return to work."

McEvoy's ruling says any workers who "continue to engage in illegal strike activity," will be fined $100 for each day they don't return to work. Each union representative will be fined $300 if they continue to strike. And CUPE will be fined $10 for each employee who stays off the job.

The province's statement says "we appreciate that most of our employees are respecting the Labour and Employment Board ruling and have now returned to work."

Province spokesperson Valerie Kilfoil said approximately 85 per cent of employees are back at work.

On Friday, employee Tyler Calnan said tensions are high.

"It's uncomfortable and employees are not happy," he said.

He said he's not sure if there will be any further action.

"We're back to work and so far no fines," he said.

Centralized service

The new Saint John Laundry plant on King William Road, previously called Fundy Linen, opened just one week ago. It's part of the province's effort to update the laundry service for hospitals, nursing homes and doctors' offices. Hospital laundry has been a government service since 2010.

The project began in 2010, when Crown corporation FacilicorpNB, now Service New Brunswick, began managing all health-care laundry plants in the province.

There were eight different operations then, and the goal is to centralize the service to three plants, in Saint John, Campbellton and Edmundston. 

The centralization process meant the closure of five facilities. That workload was partly transferred to Saint John Laundry. 

Valerie Kilfoil, a spokesperson for Service New Brunswick, said the most recent closure in 2017 "challenged the operations" at the facility in Saint John. 

Work shipped to Ottawa

"The additional volume, several equipment failures over the past year, and managing operations during the expansion and refurbishment activities stretched capacity of the Saint John plant," she said.

What Saint John Laundry couldn't clean was sent to Ottawa "for proper cleaning," Kilfoil said. 

She said two shipments were taken Tuesday, two Wednesday, two Thursday and two Friday. One shipment is scheduled Sunday and one Monday.

Kilfoil said it costs between $13,000 and $15,000 to truck the laundry to Ottawa and process it there, depending on weight.

"It must be done in a facility that has the proper equipment to process it because it is for hospitals and nursing homes," she said.

This was a point of contention for workers protesting Wednesday and Thursday. They took issue with work designated for unionized workers being exported out of the province.

Kilfoil said the final phase of this project will be the closure of the laundry service at the Dr. Everett Chalmers hospital in Fredericton at the end of November.

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