New Brunswick

Most nursing home workers vote to accept tentative agreement

Workers at 45 of 51 non-profit nursing homes in New Brunswick have voted to accept a tentative agreement, ending a protracted contract dispute that saw them on the verge of striking last year.

Offer included wage increases of 9.75 per cent over six years

Hundreds of nursing home workers and supporters gathered at the New Brunswick legislature in May 2019, one of many rallies held after union members were blocked from striking. (Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC)

Thousands of New Brunswick nursing home workers have voted to ratify a tentative agreement, ending a protracted contract dispute that saw them on the verge of striking last year.

More than 4,400 members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees at 51 non-profit homes voted by secret ballot on the agreement in recent weeks. 

Forty-five of the 51 locals voted to accept the offer, while six voted to reject it, the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions announced Monday. 

The council, which represents the locals, had recommended acceptance. It didn't name the six homes that rejected the offer and hasn't offered vote percentages. 

"For those six homes that have rejected the deal, we will reach out to them in order to determine what our next step will be," Sharon Teare, president of the council, said in a statement.

The New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes, which represents the 51 homes and serves as employer in contract talks, said it will work with the union and province on further steps for the six homes that voted to reject the offer.

Sharon Teare is president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions, which represents thousands of workers in 51 non-profit homes across the province. (CBC)

Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard did not provide an interview. Shephard said in an emailed statement she is "very pleased with the results so far."

According to a summary of the offer obtained by CBC News last month, the wage increases are 1.25 per cent in the first year, 1.5  per cent in years two through four, and two per cent in years five and six. 

"Do they deserve more? You betcha," Teare said in an interview. She said union leaders want to put the offer to members to decide whether they would accept it. She said they recommended accepting the offer. 

 "It does not represent the value, and more importantly,  it doesn't address the working conditions."

Push for change

Teare said the union will continue to push the government to make changes, including moving responsibility for nursing homes from Social Development to the province's Health Department.

"Profits should not be made on the backs of of seniors," Teare said. " They're not a commodity. They're actually human beings who are deserving of a service that is delivered because of their health and they were never meant to be excluded from the health system."

She said without changes, they will seek to make nursing home working conditions an election issue. 

The increases are close to the "final offer" from the province last fall, which funds nursing homes, but below the 12 per cent sought by the union over four years.

The workers include licensed practical nurses, resident attendants, dietary and laundry workers and some clerical workers. Their last contract expired in October 2016. 

The workers had rejected a previous tentative agreement in 2018 with increases of one per cent annually for four years.

Talks broke down last winter and members voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike. 

Just hours before that strike was set to begin, the province secured a court order that barred them from walking off the job. 

It led to a protracted series of legal challenges that ultimately sided with the union. No strike occurred. 

The tentative agreement was reached May 26.

About the Author

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

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