3 Days and 3 Nights: CUPE Occupation Ends

May 4th, 2019 – Fredericton – This morning, at 10:30 am, the NB Council of Nursing Home Unions’ (NBCNHU) bargaining team ended its occupation of the Social Development building in Fredericton with their members’ support.

“After exactly 3 days and 3 nights inside the building, I can say our message has been heard and amplified by ordinary New Brunswickers who care for seniors and their caregivers,” said Sharon Teare, President of the NBCNHU.

“I am saddened to see how Premier Higgs and Dorothy Shephard have taken pride in refusing something as simple as a phone call to us,” said Teare “this is a matter of respect and decency.”

Over the past three days, Higgs and Shephard have made their priorities clear. Nursing home workers have followed the Premier across the province to make themselves heard, and to beg him to reach out to the team. “The lack of respect shown to nursing home workers is astounding – the Conservatives prefer touring the province to fundraise for the next election rather than engage in meaningful discussion with elected union leadership”, said Teare.

Nevertheless, the bargaining team has achieved securing bargaining dates for next week and Kris Austin has committed to meeting the bargaining team on Monday. The Union hopes he will support binding arbitration without restrictions after understanding the workers’ point of view.

As workers’ constitutional right to strike continues to be unjustly suspended, they are preparing for upcoming collective actions to keep pressure on the government to secure decent care for seniors.

Occupation of Social Development begins

Fredericton, May 1st – As many celebrate May 1st, International Workers Day, the NB Council of Nursing Home Workers’ bargaining team held a sit-in in the Fredericton Office of Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard.

“The Bargaining team wants to talk to Minister Shephard, and get a commitment that she would produce the “enhanced offer” document she has talked about so much,” said Sharon Teare, President of NBCNHU.

Since February 2019, the employer has only bargained for 128 minutes. And as of March 29th, CUPE is still waiting for a response from the employer on the Union’s package.

“I fear she is not getting good information with what has happened at the table,” said Teare. “This is why we are here, ready to stay as long as we can until Shephard shows-up, or security forces the Committee to leave,” added Teare.

The Committee started their sit-in at 10 this morning and have been visited by media and over a hundred CUPE members expressing their solidarity.

Meanwhile, off-shift nursing home workers in all 46 nursing homes have held solidarity pickets in front of their workplace, to show their support for the Bargaining team.

Nursing Home Workers React to NB Court of Appeal Decision

Fredericton On April 25th 2019, the NB Court of Appeal rendered a decision in the matter of the Province’s appeal of Justice Garnett’s decision to not grant a Stay on the matter of the right to strike for nursing home workers. Reasons for the decisions are to be provided at a later date.

The Province was successful in its appeal and a Stay on nursing home workers’ right to strike has been granted at least until the judicial review of NB Essential Services in Nursing Homes Act commences. This review is to be heard on May 24th, 2019.

“I am very disappointed to see how the courts have successfully been used as a delay tactic by the government. They are not taking their constitutional responsibilities towards nursing home workers,” said Sharon Teare, president of the NB Council of Nursing Homes Unions.

CUPE feels that the government is only delaying the inevitable, as the Labour and Employment Board has recognized the unconstitutional nature of the ESNHA because of a 2015 Supreme Court ruling.

“Premier Higgs’ lawyers know full well what the Supreme Court of Canada said in the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour v Saskatchewan [2015] case. You cannot deny workers their fundamental rights to fair collective bargaining, which either includes the right to strike or binding arbitration in the case of essential service designations,” said Teare.

Nursing Home workers asked for binding arbitration on the issue of wages, specifically because real wage improvements are a necessary first step to address recruitment and retention crisis.

Until the courts reconfirm the unconstitutional nature of the ESNHA, unfettered binding arbitration is the only appropriate remedy for workers, residents and employers at this time.

Brien Watson Elected CUPE NB President

Fredericton, April 15 2019 – On Saturday, close to 350 public employees and elected union leaders voted for Brien Waston as President of the NB division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees during CUPE NB’s 56th annual convention.  Stephen Drost was elected as the Division vice-president.

Five candidates ran in this election: Andrew Hardy, Norma Robinson, Stephen Drost, Serge Plourde and Brien Watson.

Brien Watson – CUPE NB President

Daniel Légère, outgoing CUPE NB president, had announced a year ago that he would not reoffer.

“I have been President for 14 years. I want to take on other challenges and dedicate more time to my grandchildren,” said Légère.

“I am honoured CUPE members put their confidence in me. My misson is clear : build our members’ power, obtain better wages, working conditions and fairness for New Brunswickers,” said Brien Watson.

“Our Bargaining Forward campaign is now well under way. I am confident Watson has all it takes to not only maintain but to grow the movement. Brien has what it takes to motivate members and build the strength to break government’s wage restraint mandate,” said Légère.

Cuts in Tourism are Not an Achievement: Local 1190

CUPE Local 1190, which represents provincial park and tourism workers, denounces the 8 million dollar cut made by Premier Higgs and Minister Gauvin to the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture.

The only detail Gauvin has issued was that cuts would be entirely borne by Tourism, and mainly in advertising and promotion.

“Without advertising, how will tourists know about everything our province has to offer?”, said Brent Wiggins, president of CUPE Local 1190.

At a time when the dollar is forecasted to sink to a record low of 62 USD, Local 1190 believes the smart move would be to invest in workers and by producing ads targeting Americans.

“I fear that with 8 million less, it will reduce traffic in our parks, and this will in turn decrease revenues for NB. For every public dollar invested in promoting New Brunswick as a tourism destination, there is an estimated return of $3.19 to the province,” said Wiggins.

“Tourism staff are those who make or break your experience in parks and attractions. Workers in our provincial treasures such as Kings’ Landing and the Village Historique Acadien are underpaid; they earn on average $14/hour. Part of this 8 million could have been reallocated to fix the casual workers rates. They are currently only paid 80% of the wage that a full-time employee earns, even if they are doing the same work. This is a shame,” said Wiggins.

Local 1190 represents over 1,500 employees, including tradespersons, operations workers, maintenance repair workers and labourers working at the Departments of Transportation and Infrastructure, as well as Tourism, Heritage and Culture.

Workers Left Behind in Higgs’ 2019-2020 Budget

This week, New Brunswick’s Finance Minister Ernie Steeves presented the provincial budget, an ideologically conservative document with little to no tangible investments made to improve public services or workers’ wages.

This year, federal transfers to New Brunswick were increased so provincial government could invest in people to kick-start our sluggish economy. These transfer payments are usually destined for public sector stimulus in hospitals, schools, nursing homes and more. Yet, Premier Higgs did exactly the opposite, and claimed this money, combined with cuts in multiple departments, as a surplus.

“Not only are they trying to balance the budget on the backs of working people through cuts, they are also taking federal money and passing this off as their achievement,” said Daniel Légère, president of CUPE NB.

“The 49 million Minister Steeves has allocated for debt payment – which comes from his “surplus” and cuts in capital assets –  should have gone to the front-line workers, who need wage increases that go beyond inflation,” said Légère.

Similarly to the rest of Canada, more than 80% of New Brunswick’s economy is driven through consumer spending.

“This austerity budget lacks vision and drive. It contains a small vision for NB and aims to make us content with our status as last place in Canada for median wages, economic growth, population growth, and so on,” added Légère.

CUPE NB also questions the 19 million dollars allocated to the 49 MLAs for “discretionary spending” in their ridings. “These resources should go to maintain and improve our services who are already cut to the bone,” said Légère.

Public services in NB are in a crisis. We only have to look at the challenges our nursoing homes are facing. There is no room to cut jobs and not to fill vacant positions and allow positions to go vacant through attrition is simply not fair to New Brunswickers.

Despite the bad news, CUPE members’ actions have had direct results on the budget. “Minister Steeves produced a contradictory document, where on one hand, he recognizes workers’ need for better wages, but on the other hand, he is blaming the public sector of “suffocating our economy”, which is an irresponsible and patently false accusation.  Their old and tired accusations are not sticking anymore. They don’t know how to deal with the rising tide of mobilization from all segments of the population. Our voice will be heard,” concluded Légère.

 

NURSING HOMES: Bargaining Update

FREDERICTON  Bargaining talks in the nursing home sector have been put on hold, as the neutral third party – the bargaining mediator – has recommended negotiations be put on pause.

The workers’ negotiators are frustrated how both employer and government – who are now together at the table – have consistently rejected any meaningful wage increases for nursing home workers.

The employer has proposed workers take a three-year contract with a median wage increase of 10.5 cents per hour, every 6 months. The employer insisted on presenting again this proposal, disregarding the fact it had already been massively rejected by nursing home employees.

Hourly rate change for the lowest paid classifications (such as Laundry Attendant, Environment Attendant, Dietary Attendant) would be 9 cents, every 6 months. For the highest paid classifications (such as LPNs and Lead Cooks), this represents 12-cent increases per hour, every 6 months.

“I am appalled to hear the employer say nursing home workers don’t even deserve a fair and equitable wage increase,” said Sharon Teare, president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions (NBCNHU).

“Cost of living inflated by 2.1% in 2018, and 2,3% the year before that. If workers accept the employer’s proposal, there would be a real wage loss above 2.4%.” As long as I am president, I will never, ever, tell the workers I represent they deserve a wage cut,” said Teare.

The NBCNHU is frustrated by repeated stalling tactics used by the employer. CUPE suspects this is deliberate, as government lawyers are heading to court on Friday in an attempt to obtain a long-term stay order. This could have the effect of significantly prolonging the existing 10-day court order preventing nursing home worker’s right to strike.

NB Nursing Home Workers Vote Overwhelmingly For a Strike

Fredericton  As we celebrate International Women’s Day, the results from yesterday’s nursing home strike vote have come in. An overwhelming majority of workers – more than 94% of the 3520 members who were eligible to vote – voted in favor of the strike. Each section, the 46 nursing homes, voted in favor of the strike.

“This is a really strong message from workers to the government and the Employer. Members have not gone on strike since 2001. We hope the government and the Employer, the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes, can present a fair offer before the strike begins,” said Sharon Teare, President of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions (NBCNHU).

“Government and the Employer must hear residents, their families and the workers. Bring a fair deal to the table so we can solve the ongoing understaffing and workload problems in nursing homes,” added Teare.

Nursing home workers have been without a contract for over 28 months.

“After two years, we have exhausted all other avenues other than strike action. Members held demonstrations, leafleted their communities, lobbied MLAs, did radio and TV ads, and so on. The government and the Employer are leaving us with no choice but to strike,” said Teare.

“Thankfully, residents and their families understand and support us.  We are doing this in order to improve the situation for all.”

Written notice, at least 24 hours in advance, must be given by the Union or an Employer before a lawful strike or lock-out can take place.

The NBCNHU represents 4100 members working in 46 government funded nursing homes throughout New Brunswick. They represent resident attendants, Licensed Practical Nurses, maintenance, housekeeping, activity, rehabilitation, dietary, laundry and clerical staff.

 

NB Budget: Higgs-Austin Govt Snub Public Consultations

Today, the New Brunswick government signalled that public consultation will not be needed to prepare this year’s provincial budget.

“Contrary to what they have said on the campaign trail, it appears “meaningful consultation with citizens” is not the priority of the Higgs-Austin government,” said Daniel Légère, CUPE NB President.

While the business community has been shown the red carpet by Fredericton, the public’s only way to provide input on the coming budget will only be through online submissions.

“This is not about money, it’s about confiscating citizen’s usual spaces for input and dissent. Not a single MLA from the People’s Alliance or the Conservatives is opposing this sham.

When questioned on the lack of basic access, especially for rural citizens, seniors and those who cannot or prefer not to use the online avenue, Higgs’s staff responded to CUPE, “They can write a letter”.

“If Government truly wants to know how to improve services in NB, they should talk to the front-line workers who actually do the work and the citizens who depend on those public services,” concluded Légère.

To date, the NB government has scheduled 7 closed-door meetings with stakeholders and ministers.
CUPE NB denounces how the public and multiple community groups are not permitted to attend these meetings.

Finance Minister Ernie Steeves is expected to present the budget on March 19th.

 

Interest Rates Freeze: Workers’ Wages Stagnant

The Bank of Canada paused increases to their benchmark interest rate this week, partly because consumption spending and housing investment have been weaker than they expected. But it’s not surprising that households are spending more cautiously in the face of rising interest rates and persistently weak wage growth. The puzzle is why wages are so weak in the first place.

Given the strength of other economic indicators, wages should be rising faster. The national unemployment rate is at a 40-year low. The unemployment rate for 2018 in New Brunswick was 8.0% – the second-lowest rate recorded since 1976 (it fell to 7.5% in 2007, right before the last recession).  As the Bank’s action shows, stagnant real wages have broader economic effects – when households have more money in their pockets they spend it in their local communities.

Two factors behind stubbornly weak wage growth are the growth of precarious work, and austerity budgeting from provincial governments. This is why CUPE NB is building workers’ bargaining power through our “Breaking the Mandate” campaign, aiming to end a decade of provincially mandated wage constraints.

To see how much (or little) your wages have grown, check out CUPE’s Real Wage calculator at cupe.ca/real-wage-calculator

For more information on wage stagnation in Canada, you may also consult the following articles: