Day and night from May 1 to May 4, executive members of the NB Council of Nursing Home Unions occupied the Fredericton office of New Brunswick's Minister of Social Development. During the occupation, members of the Council and supporters organized demonstrations outside and sent in food and drinks. Security prevented media from entering the building to talk to the Council members so press scrums were held through the windows.
One demand of the workers occupying the office was to talk, even by phone, with either the Premier or the Minister to reaffirm the stand of the workers in defence of their right to improvements in their wages and working conditions, a stand from which they will not retreat. The workers were also asking for a copy of the new offer that the government says it has prepared, which allegedly improves on the previous offer that the workers firmly rejected. This conversation never took place.
The Minister publicly denounced the occupation as a "bullying" tactic without commenting on, apologizing for, or better still eliminating, his government's mandate and use of police powers to bully all public sector workers.
Another aim of the occupation was to denounce the never-ending state-organized judicial saga being used against the workers to deny them their right to strike. Workers are being blocked from exercising their right to withdraw their labour in support of their just demands. Denying workers' right to engage in job actions also delays finding real solutions to the problems that workers and residents of nursing homes are facing.
The latest event in the judicial saga is an April 25 decision by the New Brunswick Court of Appeal. The decision sided with the province by overturning a lower court ruling rejecting the original court order denying workers their right to strike. The judge in that decision ruled the punitive order was doing irreparable harm to the workers. The government immediately appealed and had its anti-worker dictate upheld.
Another legal process is also underway reviewing the constitutionality of the Essential Services in Nursing Homes Act, which is to be heard on May 24. In the meantime nursing home workers are denied their right to strike until that review is completed and serious problems are left unresolved.
Workers are fed up with these endless court cases. They have made clear for a long time that what they want is negotiations in which their demands and concerns are heard and respect is shown for the work they do. Their aim is to achieve working conditions and wages acceptable to themselves and to find real solutions to real problems in the sector. A strike is not their aim. At the same time, they need to be able to withdraw their capacity to work if that is what is required to push for their demands. They have even proposed to the government that binding arbitration be used to settle the dispute. The government responded to this proposal with the provocation that it would agree to submitting the dispute to binding arbitration on condition that the arbitrator abide by the one per cent dictate on wage increases, thus defeating the entire purpose of arbitration.
The executive members of the Council decided on May 4, to end their occupation of the Minister's Office and switch to regional actions of one-day sit-ins in constituency offices of Cabinet Ministers. Nursing home workers organized actions at eight Ministers' offices in cities across New Brunswick on Monday May 6, the day of the week Ministers are supposed to be in their constituency to meet their constituents. Some Ministers left their offices before the sit-ins to avoid any contact with the workers while others closed their offices for the day. Regardless, workers used the occasion to denounce the government's attacks on public sector workers and nursing home workers in particular.
The 4,100 nursing home workers have been trying to
negotiate a contract since 2016. Negotiations are scheduled for May 11
and the workers are demanding progress to achieve wages and working
conditions acceptable to themselves and to humanize the sector for the
sake of those in their care.