A demonstration that quickly turned physical remained the centre of attention as the province’s legislature got underway after a five-week break on Tuesday.
Unionized workers refused to leave government offices beginning on May 1, demanding to speak with Dorothy Shephard, the Minister of Social Development, or Premier Blaine Higgs, refusing to leave until they got their meeting.
“We’re 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, president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions, while protesting last week.
Protesters camped out for 72 hours, with at least one incident of shoving between supporters and security as food was passed to protesters inside.
Now, Shephard says that CUPE knew about a planned meeting at her office on May 1 — the day that protesters occupied her office.
“They’ve encouraged that people come up to me in public,” explained Dorothy Shepherd. “They have unfortunately damaged a door at a constituency office which I have been told they are going to pay for, and so that’s at least them acknowledging that things got out of hand.”
Pressure continues to mount between both sides as many unionized nursing home workers remain without a collective agreement. The union is asking for a 20 per cent wage increase over four years, while the government is committing to only four per cent.
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A court order sought by the provincial government prevents the 4,100 nursing home workers, residents, attendants and practical nurses from striking.
Demonstrations have been held from each end of the province, with members demanding increased wages and improved working conditions.
“As soon as it’s tabled with the negotiating committee, you will know,” added Shepard.
A mediator has called for both sides to meet later this week and the province will be introducing a new offer when they are back at the bargaining table on Thursday.
“We will see what they have to offer, what they’re going to bring. They keep saying ‘this enhanced offer’; we haven’t seen that yet so we’ll go from there, go through Thursday and see what happens,” explained the incoming president of CUPE New Brunswick, Brien Watson.