New Brunswick

Some medical services cancelled as CUPE strike enters Day 2

As more medical staff hit the picket line, at least one COVID-19 vaccination clinic has been cancelled because of the strike, according to the province.

Premier won't rule out using Emergency Measures Act to force some workers back to work

More workers have hit the picket line during day 2 of the CUPE strike. (Patrick Lacelle/Radio-Canada)

Premier Blaine Higgs said he is exploring what to do to bring to an end job action undertaken by some health-care workers and hasn't ruled out using the Emergency Measures Act to force them back to work.

Higgs made the comments Saturday at a news conference about the strike by some CUPE workers, which is in its second day.

"I'm not going to overreact, but I am going to react as necessary," said Higgs.

"We will assess the health and safety impact because that would be the impetus to look at the Emergency Measures [Act.] ... but I don't want to use that loosely."

Higgs said the government would evaluate the state of the strike over the next 24 hours.

He said many of the health-care workers work in COVID-19 screening and vaccination roles, but are not classified as essential workers.

But he said they are important to help curb the spread of the virus regardless of how they are labelled.

"These functions are necessary to the continued health and safety of New Brunswickers," said Higgs.

Some clinics cancelled

As more medical staff hit the picket line, at least one COVID-19 vaccination clinic was cancelled. It was scheduled for Fredericton.

CBC News has reached out to the province to see whether any other clinics or testing sites have been closed because of the strike, but hasn't heard back.

In a tweet, Horizon Health said it is "assessing health care services and will notify the public if there is a change."

Vitalite Health has also confirmed that a flu clinic in Haut-Madawaska today was  cancelled because of the strike.

While some services have already been affected, the province wrote in a press release Friday that contingencies are in place, but there are "no additional designated essential workers for the new services established to manage the COVID-19 pandemic."

"Labour disruptions targeting COVID-19 services would result in a significant reduction in the health system's capacity to provide COVID-19 screening for access to hospitals, COVID-19 assessment and PCR testing, laboratory services and vaccination." 

Higgs said he didn't have exact figures on how many vaccination or testing clinics have been closed because of the strike because "it's kind of random at this stage."

He said this will reduce the number of vaccinations, particularly third doses, but the province is looking at ways to give out more vaccines at pharmacies.

Impacts on province

In a statement posted on the province's website, the government announced several other areas where it says the strike will impact government services.

It says the strike will delay laundry services in some hospitals and nursing homes in Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John. There are also ferry delays, the province says.

Starting Monday, all schools in the province will move to online learning until the strike is over.

Higgs stands behind offer

Higgs told reporters Friday that he stands by the offer the province made to the union.

He said the province offered wage increases of 8.5 per cent over five years, while the union wanted 12 per cent over five years.

Premier Blaine Higgs says he stands by the offer the province made to the union. (Government of New Brunswick)

"We have offered a fair package to the employees," Higgs said.

CUPE spokesperson Simon Ouellette said CUPE president Steve Drost has been in contact with Higgs, but that talks were not fruitful.

"It didn't go very far with the premier," said Ouellette. "He seems to have dug in his heels unfortunately.

"He's not interested in offering wages that are above inflation, which is difficult to understand after he's predicting a fifth consecutive surplus, and we're talking about the folks who ... are getting us out of the pandemic."

Some medical staff join picket line

Even more workers have gone on strike during Day 2 of labour action by CUPE locals in New Brunswick and some CUPE hospital workers have also walked off the job.

Bryan Harris, secretary treasurer of CUPE 1252 and an emergency medical dispatcher for Ambulance New Brunswick, confirmed that some workers in that local have walked off the job.

Harris said he can't say how many medical services have been impacted by the strike.

"I'm in Moncton, and there hasn't really been a whole lot of impact here. I've heard a couple of things, but a lot of it's hearsay. There's nothing I would really be able to confirm."

In a letter posted to the union’s Twitter page CUPE thanked New Brunswickers who had shown support for the action that started on Friday. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Harris said while the local is "100 per cent" in favour of the strike, that doesn't mean workers really want to be out on the picket line.

"We would much rather be doing our jobs and doing what we love to do, which is helping people. But we're just left with no choice," said Harris.

Those workers are in health zones three, four and seven.

Ten union locals are in strike position and some have been hitting the picket line after the province pulled out of negotiations earlier this week.

On Saturday, Ouellette said there are six locals officially on strike.

These include school district employees, educational support workers, New Brunswick Community College and Le Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick workers.

A letter posted to the union's Twitter page thanked New Brunswickers who had shown support for the action that started on Friday.

With files from Mrinali Anchan


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