New Brunswick

CUPE ends sit-in outside social development minister's office

Nursing home union negotiators end three-day sit-in outside office of social development minister Dorothy Shephard, but says fight is far from over.

New bargaining date set for May 9, but that wasn't the goal of the protest, union says

CUPE ended its sit-in but said its fight with government for wage increases isn't over. (Lauren Bird/CBC)

Members of the CUPE negotiating team in the nursing home workers' contract dispute have ended a three-day sit-in outside the Fredericton office of social development minister Dorothy Shephard. 

This comes after high-tension clashes between sit-in members and government security.

The sit-in began on May 1, with about 10 CUPE members staying in the building continually until May 4 at 10:30 a.m.

They've been demanding a meeting with Shephard or Premier Blaine Higgs to discuss the nursing home workers contract dispute.

While the representatives didn't achieve that goal, they said it became clear to them on Day 3 that the demonstration wasn't working.

"We hadn't anticipated at all that we would be in there this long and we would have stayed 72 days more ... but we are going to do more good out here than in there," said Sandy Harding, CUPE regional director for the Maritimes.

Sandy Harding, CUPE regional director for the Maritimes, said the union will seek support from other parties. (Lauren Bird/CBC)

"It was quite obvious yesterday. Our members were following the premier around, and in Moncton last night we were on the phone with our members and they actually handed, were trying to hand the phone to the premier, to say just talk to them."

Harding said the decision to leave the social development office was a collective one.

"Higgs and Shephard aren't worth our time anymore," she said.

Harding said the union will look to support from the opposition and third parties.

Things got heated Thursday outside the minister of social development's office in Fredericton, where CUPE members were holding a sit-in. 1:28

"This is a minority government which it seems to be has forgotten that this is a minority government. So we're going to work on those other elected officials."

Approximately 4,000 nursing home workers, including licensed practical nurses, resident attendants and support service workers, have been negotiating a contract since 2016, seeking higher wages.

Bargaining date set for next week

Sharon Teare, president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Homes Unions, said the union representatives will return to the bargaining table on May 9, but that was not the purpose of their demonstration.

"A bargaining day means nothing," Teare said.

"We did not come out because it was difficult in there. We were prepared to spend more than 72 hours in there."

A statement released by CUPE said that People's Alliance leader Kris Austin has committed to meeting the bargaining team on Monday.

Shephard said Thursday the sit-in "bullied" social development employees and interfered with her department's ability to operate.

Teare countered that by saying nursing home workers were being bullied in the court system.

Sharon Teare, president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Homes Unions, said the demonstration was not about getting a bargaining date. (Lauren Bird/CBC)

"Our intent is not to intimidate any of the workers because as workers ourselves we respect the role that they do," she said. "There was no intention to upset or harass anyone. We came here in a very peaceful act especially after our rights were stripped away."

No strike until judicial review

In early March, workers voted 90 per cent in favour of a strike, but on April 26, the Court of Appeal stayed a labour board decision that would have allowed the workers to walk off the job.

The three-justice panel ruled there will be no strike until a judicial review of the labour board decision is completed or until further orders from the Court of Queen's Bench.

The labour board decision said provincial legislation that deems nursing home work an essential service is unconstitutional because it doesn't allow workers to fully strike.

A group of supporters waited outside for the CUPE representatives to speak outside the social development minister's office. (Lauren Bird/CBC)

The province, which provides money to operate the homes, is challenging that decision.

The New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes declined a request for an interview Saturday but released a statement that it is looking forward to returning to the bargaining table.

"We hope discussions can return to being focused on how to improve quality of care and working conditions; both of which are necessary improvements for the future of the sector. CUPE ending the occupation of Social Development offices will allow for productive discussions to move forward," the statement read.

The association has yet to say whether it wants to go to binding arbitration. Higgs has said the province would agree to it only if the arbitrator took into account the wages of similar jobs in the public and private sectors.

The union said this imposition of conditions would not be binding arbitration.  

With files from Lauren Bird