New Brunswick

Province appealing court ruling that sided with nursing home workers

The New Brunswick government is seeking to appeal a decision by a judge in July that found a provincial law deeming nursing home workers an essential service is unconstitutional.

Move is latest step affecting whether 4,100 nursing home workers can strike

Nursing home workers voted to strike in March, but a series of court proceedings have prevented that. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

The New Brunswick government is seeking to appeal a recent court decision in the province's contract dispute with nursing home workers. 

Christian Michaud, a lawyer representing the provincial government, filed a notice of appeal July 24. It seeks to have the Court of Appeal dismiss a lower court decision and reinstate a contested 2018 labour board ruling. 

No date has been set by the court to decide whether to hear the appeal. 

Abigail McCarthy, a spokesperson for the Department of Social Development, said the minister would not provide an interview as the case remains before the courts. 

"The Department of Social Development remains committed to ensuring the safety and security of residents of the province's nursing homes," McCarthy said in an email. 

Sharon Teare, president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions, said she was angry to learn the province wants to appeal the ruling. 

"How many court decisions do they need for them to say that the act is wrong and it needs to be fixed?" Teare said.

Sharon Teare, president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions, says she was angry to learn of the province's move to appeal the ruling. (Lauren Bird/CBC)

The December 2018 labour board ruling examined whether the province's Essential Services in Nursing Homes Act violates the right to strike for about 4,100 workers in 46 non-profit care homes. The board ruled the law did violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

The decision took on greater importance in March, when the unionized workers voted overwhelmingly in favour of striking and came within hours of being able to strike. The province went to court to prevent a strike, which it said would harm vulnerable nursing home residents. 

That decision set off a tangled series of court proceedings between March and July. It culminated with a July 2 decision by Court of Queen's Bench Justice Tracey DeWare that upheld the labour board ruling.

However, DeWare gave the province until January 2020 to amend the law to make it comply with the charter. 

The notice of appeal states DeWare made multiple errors in law, including failing to properly deal with the labour board's decision, considering a Supreme Court ruling, and that the labour board didn't have jurisdiction to deem legislation unconstitutional. 

Last agreement expired in 2016

Contract talks have been going on between the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes and the union representing nursing home workers since the last agreement expired in 2016.

The talks broke down and a strike vote was held in March. 

The Canadian Union of Public Employees represents the 4,100 workers, who include licensed practical nurses, resident attendants, support service workers such as dietary and laundry workers, and some clerical workers.

Registered nurses, who are represented by the New Brunswick Nurses Union, are not involved

The sides have not reached an agreement during the continuing court proceedings.

Teare said the sides last met July 25, when the province presented what it called a final offer. She said the offer is similar to one previously presented and isn't acceptable to workers. 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes is funded by the provincial government. In fact, the government sends funds directly to the nursing homes.
    Aug 01, 2019 8:16 PM AT

About the Author

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

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