What began as a peaceful protest turned physical on Thursday as New Brunswick members of CUPE and other affiliated unions rallied outside and inside the minister of social development’s office in Fredericton, N.B.
CUPE, along with the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions, are in the middle of a prolonged dispute with the province over wages and working conditions for nursing home workers.
Protestors had occupied the first floor and Dorothy Shephard’s office on the second floor since 10 a.m., Wednesday.
The scuffle broke out as supporters attempted to pass food through to the protestors inside. The building’s security attempted to shut the door and block the food from being tossed in.
A few shoves were traded and voices were raised. The food that did make it through the door was quickly thrown back out.
From inside the building, the president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions said that protestors plan to stay put until they hear from the premier or Shephard.
“We are asking them to come and speak with us and give the workers what it is that they deserve, face-to-face confirmation that they are willing to enter into engaging meaningful discussions,” said Sharon Teare.
A court order has barred 4,100 nursing home workers, residents, attendants, and practical nurses from striking in the province.
Union members say they want a raise in wages and improved working conditions. The legal dispute has been going on since 2016 but has ramped up in the past several weeks.
“What we want is a meeting with Dorothy Shephard to talk about getting back to the bargaining table to find a settlement to this nursing home labour dispute,” said Patrick Colford, one of the CUPE members at Thursday’s protest.
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In a statement, the minister says she’s disappointed with the tactics used by the union in an effort to force the province’s hand.
“Media stunts are not necessary to get the province back to the table. We have said all along that the only way to achieve a new collective agreement is by negotiating at the table, and we are looking forward to returning soon,” she said.
Liberal MLAs showed up to offer protestors supplies but were also turned away by security.
“We are here today to show our support and to let them know that we certainly are in agreeance with them getting a meeting with the minister. We showed up to bring toothpaste and some wipes and some medication. The government of Blaine Higgs, the minister have told that there is no food, no anything allowed to be passed into this group,” said Lisa Harris, MLA for Miramichi Bay-Neguac.