New Brunswick

Nursing home nurses poised for about $8K in back pay, says association head

Nursing home nurses could soon each get about $8,000 in back pay, according to the interim CEO of the association.

Contract offering 14.5% over 5 years, expiring Dec. 31, 2023, expected to be ratified by union Friday

An addition to the contract regarding overtime concerned nursing home operators but has since been resolved, according to the association's interim CEO. (iStock)

Nursing home nurses could soon each get about $8,000 in back pay, according to the interim CEO of the association.

A five-year contract, offering a total of 14.5 per cent, has been ratified by all members of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes, said Michael Keating.

The agreement, which expires Dec. 31, 2023, is now in the hands of the New Brunswick Nurses Union to ratify, he said late Thursday.

"For all intents and purposes, it is a fait accompli now."

Union officials could not be reached for comment.

On Monday, the union announced it had filed a complaint about the nursing homes group with the Labour and Employment Board. The basis of the complaint was an almost three-month delay in ratifying a membership-approved collective agreement for nurses working at nursing homes.

"When we are able to ratify collective agreements, it brings a sigh of relief to everybody," said Keating. "And in this case, I understand that there was a degree of frustration from the nurses because the process took so long. We understand that, and we're happy for them.

"We recognize the work that they do within our environment. And over the course of the last two years, it's unimaginable what nurses and all nursing home workers have gone through. So we're quite relieved that we can move forward and that they'll receive their back pay and their increases."

The new deal will mean a "fair chunk of change" in back pay for the nurses, who have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2018, said Keating.

"The average wage of a [full-time unionized] nurse is over $80,000 now," he said. "And if you say that the back pay is 10 per cent, then they're looking at probably, you know, I'm guessing like $8,000 or something over the course of that much time."

It might even be more than that if the percentage amount each year is compounded, he noted.

Keating said the delay in ratifying the deal occurred because nursing home operators were concerned about overtime.

"There had been … an addition put in, where the nurses would get, instead of 1.5 times their salary, or their hourly rate, for overtime, it was bumped to two hours. And that ended up becoming a sticking point in terms of funding for the nursing homes."

The government helped iron out the issue, he said, allowing the homes to be reimbursed for those additional expenses.

Union representatives had argued the nursing association's delay in ratifying the new contract could prompt more nursing home workers to leave their jobs, making staff shortages even worse.

The membership approved the deal, which would improve working conditions, in February.

The news that Norman Bossé had stepped down as CEO of the nursing homes association came suddenly Monday, after the nurses union announced it was filing a complaint because of contract delays. (Ed Hunter/CBC News file photo)

Keating still had little to say about the abrupt departure of CEO Norman Bossé, just a few months after he took on the job.

"The only thing that I know is that [last] Friday, the employment relationship was terminated. And I was not advised as to whether Mr. Bossé had initiated that or the board had initiated that," he said.

The board of directors might be in a position to say more next week, he added.

Bossé, the province's former child, youth and seniors advocate, isn't talking either about his brief tenure at the nursing home association, or how it coincides with confusion over the contract agreement.

Keating, who previously served as interim executive director, said he received a call on Monday asking him to come out of retirement.

The search for a permanent replacement has begun, he said. "I'm hoping within two months that this chair will be filled by somebody else."

Up to 50 employees still unvaccinated

Meanwhile, it could take six months to resolve COVID-19 vaccination requirements for employees, which is contributing to staff shortages, said Keating.

"We will be going to probably arbitration on the issue because each individual home will make their decision because there are independent bodies, and the union will, of course, they'll be fighting for their members to be able to return."

An estimated 35 to 50 employees who were sent home because they were unvaccinated against COVID-19 or failed to provide proof they were vaccinated have still not returned to their jobs because of their vaccination status, said Keating.

That's out of a total of roughly 6,500 employees.

Michael Keating, who has come out of retirement to serve as interim CEO of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes, said the COVID-19 vaccination requirements of employees will likely have to go to arbitration. (Radio-Canada)

"Some of the homes have returned the workers, others have not. They cite security concerns for the residents and for the other employees," he said. "So it's a mixed bag at this stage."

The association will support nursing homes on their vaccine requirements, and advocate on their behalf, said Keating.

In a recent arbitration case involving Ottawa postal workers, the arbitrator upheld the right of the employer to demand vaccinations, he said.

"I would suggest that that issue is probably six months away from being resolved. We'll wait to see what the arbitrators have to say, and then we'll abide by the decisions of the arbitrators."

With files from Harry Forestell

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