New Brunswick

Family relieved after nursing home law changes push back possibility of strike

Amendments to New Brunswick's essential services law for nursing home workers has pushed back the possibility of a strike, potentially for years.

Amendments to the law deeming workers at 51 homes an essential service passed in late December

Stuart and Marion Lyons, at her care home in Riverview. Suffering from dementia, Marion requires round-the-clock care. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Stuart Lyons is relieved.

Changes to New Brunswick's essential services law for nursing home workers passed last month effectively mean there won't be a strike by those workers in the near future. Lyons feared a strike could affect his mother Marion's care at Lakeview Manor in Riverview.

"We're all very happy that there's going to be no walkout," Lyons said.

The organization representing more than 4,000 workers says passage of the law means the employees and employer must now decide how many workers are considered essential at 51 non-profit homes around the province. 

"We cannot go on strike until we set those designations," Patrick Roy, co-ordinator with the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Locals, said in an interview. Roy said it's a process he could see taking years to complete.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees represents more than 4,000 workers at 51 non-profit nursing homes in the province. (Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC)

Under a previous version of the law, the sides went to the labour board when they couldn't agree on a percentage of workers who would be forced to remain at work during a strike.

That process began in 2011 and the level was set by the board at 90 per cent in 2013, a level later found to violate the charter by effectively removing the ability to strike.

While the inability to strike is a relief for Lyons, he said nursing home employees who care for more than 3,800 people deserve better pay and working conditions.

But he said he doesn't think workers should be able to walk out on vulnerable nursing home residents like his mother. Instead, he said, the sides should be able to enter binding arbitration to reach a new collective agreement.

It's a step the union had also pushed for unsuccessfully last year. The new law does include binding arbitration but with conditions that include accounting for the province's ability to pay. 

The members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees include licensed practical nurses, resident attendants, dietary and laundry workers and some clerical workers. They have been without a contract since 2016. 

Last March, they voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike, though no strike happened while a series of court proceedings took place over several months.

In October, the Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling that found the essential services law violated the charter. The province was given until Jan. 2 to fix the law, otherwise all of the workers could have gone on strike.

Jodi Hall, executive director of the New Brunswick Nursing Home Association, says the organization still wants to reach a negotiated contract with the workers. (CBC)

Amendments were passed to address the court ruling and took effect immediately after receiving royal assent on Dec. 20.

Jodi Hall, executive director of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes, which represents the homes, said that they will be determining how to proceed under the new version of the law in the new year.

"Our position has not changed in that we strongly desire to find a path that leads to a negotiated contract," Hall said in an email. "To date, we have not been in a position to accomplish this, but remain hopeful for a solution in 2020."

Roy said CUPE's lawyers will be examining the legislation and will decide if there are possible legal challenges that could be brought to court.

About the Author

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

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