Opposition calls on N.B. government to enter into binding arbitration with unions

Union officials meet at the Fredericton Inn for a media conference on contract talks with the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes. Morganne Campbell/Global News

Unionized workers were in the gallery Thursday as a motion was debated that asks the provincial government to enter into binding arbitration with unions representing the provinces 4,100 nursing home workers.

It was a fiery question period as opposition members had their sights on those wearing Tory Blue. MLAs laid into the Higgs government as pressure continues to mount over the province’s nursing home dispute.

Liberal MLA Lisa Harris asked the premier why he would not agree to binding arbitration.

“Is your image as a tough negotiator more important than our nursing home residents and their families?” Harris asked. The question was met with applause from her caucus.

Blaine Higgs was quick to answer, “Mr. Speaker, I would ask the member opposite why didn’t they say yes 28 months ago?”

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He sang the same tune outside the house while speaking to reporters.

“This isn’t just about this discussion, it’s about every discussion that’s going to happen because lets remember. This is the last union in a series that’s already excepted workers in the same discipline,” Higgs said.

It was a point the Liberals were quick to correct. “The difference is we never slammed the door in CUPE’s face. We kept the negotiations going. We kept it going in good faith, there was a give and take,” added Harris.

Earlier this week, the unions representing the province’s nursing home workers walked away from the bargaining table as talks hit a standstill between the government and the employer, the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes.

Workers have been trying to strike since the beginning of the month, but a court order sought by the province has prevented them from doing so.

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“We’re frustrated and I can’t say it enough. We’re determined and we’re rising to every challenge that’s being put to us,” explains Sharon Teare, the president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions.

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Opposition parties have banded together and are supporting CUPE and their fight for higher wages.

“We want to see negotiations at the table first and foremost I think that’s the best way to come to a resolution. If that fails, binding arbitration,” said People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin.

A point echoed by the Greens who stood with the PA in calling on the government to act last week.

“Absolutely, we gotta get it done and done right,” said Green MLA Kevin Arseneau.


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