Voting on final contract for New Brunswick nursing home workers stopped

Click to play video: 'Voting on government’s final contract offer to nursing home workers stopped'
Voting on government’s final contract offer to nursing home workers stopped
WATCH: Nursing home workers were in the midst of voting on the government’s final contract offer, but the process has ground to a halt. And as Silas Brown reports, it’s only a matter of weeks until they have the legal right to strike. – Nov 21, 2019

The ongoing labour dispute between the province and unionized nursing home workers has hit yet another speed bump.

Voting on the government’s final contract offer has stopped after only nine homes had a chance to weigh in.

The New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes (NBANH) says it asked the labour board to cancel votes that were scheduled to take place in several nursing homes this week because “continuing would not be in the interest of the residents.”

“The point of the vote on final offer was to try a different approach to achieve a contract and to also achieve harmonious labour relations. With the vote results being as high as they were to reject the final offer, the individual nursing homes scheduled for this week simply decided to cancel,” Jodi Hall, executive director of the NBANH, said in an email.

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“What we really want is for residents to receive good care. To do that, employees must be satisfied and that is what we were trying to achieve.”

READ MORE: Workers in 3 N.B. nursing homes vote against government final offer

The government used its one-time “final offer” mechanism in September to force a membership vote on its latest contract offer.

Only three homes have had their votes counted, with each voting decidedly against the government offer of a 5.5 per cent raise over four years, coupled with a reduction of two sick days.

Workers at Villa Sormany in Robertville voted 90 per cent against the offer, while 93.4 per cent of workers at Foyer Notre Dame de Lourdes in Bathurst voted no. York Manor in Fredericton voted 87.4 per cent to reject the contract.

But the results of the other six homes remain sealed after a dispute in process between the union and the employer. The union filed a complaint with the labour board that the employer was negotiating in bad faith. The board ruled in favour of the employer after those votes had already taken place and so ordered that the ballots from those six homes be destroyed. Now the NBANH and the government are arguing that the ballots should be preserved and counted.

“We know that nursing home workers have been committed to their demands so we’re going to see if there were any movement in that and without knowing those first six homes we can’t be sure,” said Minister of Social Development Dorothy Shephard.

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Shephard said she supports stopping further voting on the contract while the issue is sorted out.

“I think it’s a matter of us needing to play catch up we need to work through the process of finding out what those first six homes have voted and until we work through that process with the labour board, we need to hold off,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Protestors gather outside of New Brunswick legislature'
Protestors gather outside of New Brunswick legislature

The union is calling the move a stall tactic and is calling for voting to continue.

“The homes that have voted properly have all rejected his ‘offer.’ It seems like the government and the employer association want to backpedal and stall to prevent a public relations mess,” Sharon Teare, president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Homes Union, said in a release.

“Workers have had enough of stall tactics. Anti-constitutional laws, futile bargaining sessions, legal battles, court delays, rejection of legislature votes and now this.

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“It’s time the premier put his ego aside and settle a fair deal once and for all.”

The New Brunswick Court of Appeal recently upheld the union’s right to strike and declared the Essential Services in Nursing Homes Act unconstitutional.

The government has until January 1, when workers will officially regain strike power, to amend the act.

READ MORE: N.B. Court of Appeal upholds nursing home workers’ right to strike

Shephard says amendments will be introduced in the legislature in the coming days and that the government hopes to meet the deadline.

Next week the Liberals will introduce a non-binding motion calling for the government to enter binding arbitration with the union to avoid a strike, following up on a similar motion passed earlier this year.

“If I go into a nursing home, all of the people that have elders or seniors in their nursing home as a family, they are always worried what’s going to happen, they don’t know if there’s going to be a strike, there’s not going to be a strike, is there going to be somebody else to take care of their relatives,” said opposition leader Denis Landry.

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