Workers at three New Brunswick nursing homes have voted decisively against the provincial government’s final offer.
“As we were predicting early on, the results have been very strong and there’s been a very strong rejection of the province’s final offer,,” said Patrick Roy, the nursing home workers co-ordinator for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
According to numbers released by CUPE on Friday, Villa Sormany Inc. in Robertville, N.B., voted 90 per cent against the offer and 93.4 per cent of workers at Foyer Notre Dame de Lourdes in Bathurst, N.B., voted no.
Roy said that 87.4 per cent of workers at York Manor in Fredericton also voted against the contract.
In September, the government chose to trigger its one-time final offer mechanism that allows them to put a contract directly to the membership. Now, the 46 publicly-funded nursing homes are slowly getting their chance to vote. Because this vote must be conducted by the labour board, only one vote per day can be completed, meaning voting will likely continue into the new year.
The offer is for a 5.5 per cent pay increase over four years with a reduction of two sick days. The union is sticking to its ask of a 12 per cent increase over the same period.
Premier Blaine Higgs has contended throughout negotiations that union leadership are the ones pushing for these increases, without the support of the membership. According to Roy, the initial votes tell a different story.
“As we said when they started this process, we said, ‘well the premier will finally hear from the membership,'” Roy said.
“He seems to have no believed us when we said the members were not accepting the one per cent (pay increase). We were given a very strong mandate from our members to go back to the table and ones were not acceptable.”
Minister Dorothy Shephard said in a statement Friday that she was disappointed by the results and reiterated that she believes “the offer was fair to the workers as well as to New Brunswick taxpayers.”
Roy said Shephard’s comments show that she doesn’t understand the feelings of the workers.
“These are workers for them, but they’re also people and citizens of the province and these people are sending a message. This is not me sending a message, this is not CUPE national or CUPE as an organization sending a message. These are their employees sending a very clear message that they do not think it’s a fair offer,” Roy said.
Nursing home workers have been without a contract since October 2016, and negotiations throughout the last year have been bitter, punctuated by frequent protests and court battles over the workers’ right to strike.
Last month, the New Brunswick Court of Appeal upheld a decision from the Court of Queen’s Bench giving nursing home workers the right to strike. The battle stems back to a labour board ruling from 2018 that said the Essential Services Act, that removes the right to strike for workers deemed essential, was unconstitutional. Back in March the union voted over 90 per cent in favour of strike action, leading the government to challenge the labour board ruling.
After the court of appeal ruling, the government has until Jan. 1 to amend the Essential Services Act. Higgs has said that the government has plans to amend the act in the upcoming sitting, but that they are prepared to continue the battle to the Supreme Court.