New Brunswick

Nursing home union quits talks and calls for binding arbitration

CUPE New Brunswick says contract negotiations with nursing homes have reached a deadlock, and the only way out is binding arbitration.

After only 2 days back at the table, CUPE says negotiations are going nowhere

CUPE nursing home workers have been negotiating a contract since 2016. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

CUPE New Brunswick says contract negotiations with nursing homes have reached a deadlock, and the only way out is binding arbitration.

CUPE will not be returning to the bargaining table until an arbitrator is involved, Sharon Teare, the president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home unions, said Wednesday.

In binding arbitration, the arbitrator makes a decision on the unresolved issues, and the decision must be accepted by the union and the employer.

Nursing home workers expect an arbitrator would be fair, Teare said, although "we don't know what we're going to get with binding arbitration."

Premier Blaine Higgs rejected calls from the opposition for binding arbitration to resolve the labour dispute. ( Joe McDonald/CBC)

CUPE was at the negotiating table with the province and the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes on Monday and Tuesday but didn't receive a new wage proposal. Wages are the main sticking point in negotiations, Teare said.

The province, which funds the non-profit homes, has previously offered a one per cent increase in each year of a four-year contract, on par with increases in the hospital sector. CUPE rejected this offer in July 2018.

A later wage proposal amounted to about the same thing, according to the union. 

Current wage rates for nursing home workers range from $18 to $24 an hour, depending on the position.

Last week, Premier Blaine Higgs rejected calls by all three opposition parties for binding arbitration to settle the dispute involving the 4,100 workers.

This was after a judge granted an order preventing union members from going on strike in the near future.

The Liberals have also tabled a motion in the legislature in support of binding arbitration. The motion is to be debated and voted on Thursday, but its purpose is only to put the wishes of the majority of the house on the record. Ultimately, the decision to allow binding arbitration lies with Higgs.

Roland Cormier, CUPE vice-president, said it would be an affront to democracy if Higgs does not agree to binding arbitration, because a majority of the people in the legislature have called for it.

Higgs previously said binding arbitration is a financial risk and not fair because the government has many contracts to negotiate.

The nursing home workers involved in the dispute include licensed practical nurses, resident attendants and support service workers. They've been without a contract for more than two years.

In early March, they voted almost unanimously in favour of a strike but the province obtained a temporary court order preventing them from starting one. 

What followed has been a back-and-forth court dispute between lawyers for the union and those for the province, and protests by union members.