Health care staff at odds with NB government over surgical masks

Fredericton – November 27, 2020 –  CUPE 1252, representing over 12,000 members in the New Brunswick healthcare system, is appalled by the reductions of personal protective equipment (PPE) allocation for healthcare staff.https://cupe.azureedge.net/sites/cupe/files/node_representative_image/flu-mask.png

“From day one, the staff have all had access to level 3 surgical masks to provide a maximum layer of protection just below the N95. However, Horizon recently downgraded that requirement to a level 1, and that is simply wrong,” said Norma Robinson, President of CUPE 1252.

A level one mask only provides general protection for staff, whereas a level 3 provides maximum protection. “It now appears as though the province and health authorities are going to nickel and dime the staff and throw health and safety to the wolves,” added Robinson.

CUPE 1252 has been very cooperative with the provincial government and health authorities when it comes to dealing with this global pandemic, but that cooperation is now becoming strained. Since the beginning of this pandemic, there has been plenty of understanding of the importance of proper PPE for all staff and that included the right to proper face protection.

“The first and last line of defence against this virus are the hospitals in this province, and it makes no sense at all to jeopardize the staff that is providing that defence,” says Ralph McBride, CUPE National Servicing Representative.

“We are 9 months into this fight, in the middle of the second wave. How can they pivot and say their employees’ health does not matter by downgrading these masks to something inferior than first supplied?” asked McBride.

“Healthcare employees are working above and beyond in their stressful daily routines. The last thing they should worry about in this second wave is having less protection. This needs to be corrected immediately,” said Robinson.

“Premier Higgs do the right thing and tell your health authorities to stop nickel-and-diming people. Health and safety must come first!” concluded Robinson.

“Renewed and Reinvented Public Services” Promised in NB Throne Speech

Fredericton, November 17, 2020 – Today, Lt. Governor Brenda Murphy delivered Blaine Higgs’s first majority government Throne Speech. Government rightfully underlined workers and civil services’ diligent response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“Government said they want to govern collaboratively and reinvent New Brunswick, and that is good. But I remind the Premier that if he wants to reinvent public services, public service workers must be at the table and be heard,” said CUPE NB President Brien Watson.

In the Speech, government wishes for more private capital investment, but unjustly blames the under-performance of the private sector on the public sector’s strength.

“A strong public sector means good roads, quality healthcare and education. This is a strength, in fact, this attracts investments and that is how we build stronger communities’” reminded Watson.

“To see the NB economy grow and see more people choosing to live in our province, the Government must put people first. This requires improving the socioeconomic conditions of workers,” said Watson. “Reversing the effects of a decade of stagnating wages is the best way to do that,” he added.

On the healthcare front, the government said more “optimization” must be done. “Optimization often means cuts – but it doesn’t have to, if the government is bold, innovative and sees the public services as part of the solution,” said Watson. “Investing to bring more work in-house, when it can be done better, should be a priority. We could save money, if for example, we worked with Atlantic governments to develop and produce our own generic pharmaceuticals,” said Watson.

To this day, NB is the province who invested the least in the fight against COVID-19. “To take advantage of our enviable position, our province should take the federal funds to give a break to and improve our front line,” concluded Watson.

Follow the Ontario Example – NB Needs Standards of Care

Fredericton, Nov 4 2020 CUPE NB is alarmed that Premier Higgs is refusing to cooperate with Ottawa to create national long-term care standards.

On November 3rd, Brunswick News reported that Blaine Higgs rejected the Prime Minister’s call to establish national standards of care.

 “I am concerned that our Premier does not want to fix our broken long-term care system. Establishing standards is the best way to ensure all seniors, no matter where they may be or no matter their income, have a basic right to live in dignity,” said Brien Watson, president of CUPE NB.  “There is a recruitment and retention crisis unfolding in the sector at the same time as we deal with a pandemic. Why can’t our Premier work with other provinces and Ottawa to raise the bar for everyone?” asked Watson.

Meanwhile, in Ontario, the Ford government announced that it will increase the amount of care hours long-term care residents receive every day. “Ontario just announced its plan for a 4-hours of care standard for all seniors — a change that has long been called for by CUPE. Why can’t Premier Higgs recognize that our seniors are as much deserving as Ontarians are?” asked Watson.

“Establishing care standards would improve the lives and safety of both seniors and workers. In the long run, it would simplify integration of long-term care in our public health care system,” said Watson.

 CUPE NB invites Premier Higgs and Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch to reconsider their position on negotiating national standards for the long-term-care sector.

Pay Equity Report Demonstrates Major Inequality in Community Care

Fredericton, October 30 2020 – Recently, the NB Coalition for Pay Equity released an 86-page report to bring attention on the undervalued and underpaid work in community care. The report highlights the extent of the pay gap in this overwhelmingly female-dominated sector.

“The report’s findings are wholly supported by the 21 union locals that are members of the New Brunswick Community Service Unions (NBCSU),” said Laurie Anderson, president of the NBCSU and herself a group home worker.

This summer, the federal government had announced a temporary wage top-up for workers earning less than $18/hour in the sector, as it was clearly recognized as essential work.  “The wage top-up was a good step, but it does not get us close to pay equity, nor was it the aim of the program. The provincial government has yet to do its part here. Action is needed to get our sector to a fair and equitable wage,” said Anderson.

The Coalition’s report demonstrates that in 2020, in most classifications, community care work remains seriously underpaid by at least $8/hour.

“Our members, like direct caregivers, crisis interveners and home care workers, just to name a few, are not only underpaid; they don’t have enough schedule stability and predictability,” said Anderson.

“The Throne Speech is coming on November 17. I hope Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch will work with Premier Higgs to improve public investment to make fairness a priority in the upcoming budget,” concluded Anderson.

CUPE has long called for pay equity legislation in the private sector and joins the Coalition for Pay Equity in their recommendations for reform.

The NBCSU represents over 500 workers in the community care sector throughout New Brunswick. This includes workers in home support, group homes, special care homes, transition houses and more. 

Healthcare Delayed is Healthcare Denied: Reopen Clinic 554

Fredericton CUPE NB adds its voice to community leaders, legislators, activists and organizations denouncing the provincial Government’s inactions on the closure of Fredericton’s Clinic 554.

“CUPE NB’s position is clear: patients can’t wait. Healthcare delayed is healthcare denied,” said Brien Watson, President of CUPE NB.

Clinic 554 is a doctor-run family practice clinic. Their work includes all scopes of medicine, from pediatrics to geriatrics with a focus on reproductive, trans, LGBTQ2+, addiction medicine and HIV care.

With recent reports that some 37,000 people are on the wait list for a family doctor, forcing the closure of this clinic only worsens the problem.  “Fund and reopen now, and work to make the clinic part of a greater public clinic and medication-delivery system, which NB desperately needs,” said Watson.

“The Premier can fix this crisis with a stroke of his pen. Regulation 84-20, which prevents abortions from being covered by Medicare when performed outside hospitals, is forcing the closure of Clinic 554. It should be repealed immediately, through a simple Order-in-Council,” said Watson.

With the closure of Clinic 554, abortion services will not be available in two the three largest cities in New Brunswick. There are only three hospitals in the province providing the service – 2 in Moncton, and 1 in Bathurst – far out of the reach of many women in need.

CUPE NB believes the province should set up a network of publicly run clinics, from walk-in clinics to more specialized care clinics, across the province. This would ease congestion in our emergency rooms and improve overall access to primary healthcare across the province. “A Medicare card should be all you need to get care when you step into a public clinic, from treating the common cold to getting an abortion,” said Watson.

Until such a network is set up, the province has the legal obligation to provide accessible, adequate and affordable abortion access and LGBTQ2+-friendly care for all, and that requires Clinic 554.

A Hundred CUPE Signs Stolen in Miramichi and Oromocto

September 11, 2020 – As a registered third-party advertiser in the NB provincial election, CUPE NB had put up close to 250 outdoor signs denouncing the inaction of the Progressive Conservatives and Peoples Alliance Party on workers’ issues. More than a hundred were stolen in the last four days in Miramichi, Oromocto and Saint John.

The square 2×2 signs had simple messages such as “Remember Michelle Conroy turned her back on Nursing Home workers”, “Remember: Higgs said workers should move to Alberta if they wanted better wages” and more.

“We suspect PC and PANB partisans were involved in an organized effort,” said Brien Watson, President of CUPE NB.  “Residents in the Miramichi have sent us images of individuals caught stealing the CUPE NB signs,” he added.

This week, many PANB supporters bragged on public Facebook posts about burning the signs in their fire pits.

“The truth hurts for the PC and PANB members. We are playing by the rules, but despite this, they are going above and beyond to break the law to deny workers their democratic right to express themselves in this election” said Watson.

CUPE NB has reached out to the Miramichi Police force and they have begun an investigation.

In Oromocto, over 45 CUPE NB signs were stolen in less than 12 hours.  “This is not the work of a few teenagers. This is a deliberate and coordinated action. It’s against the law and is an affront to the workers’ right to express themselves lawfully in this election,” said Watson.

The RCMP in the Oromocto region has told CUPE NB they would be asking local businesses to share exterior CCTV footage to identify the individuals.

Election sign vandalism can result in charges under the Criminal Code of Canada. CUPE NB asks that anyone who sees vandalism or theft of election signs to call police or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Premier Should Not Deny Seniors’ Right to Vote

FREDERICTON – Blaine Higgs called a snap election without having provided Elections New Brunswick with enough legal flexibility to ensure seniors’ right to vote in the current context. CUPE NB denounces this situation and demands the Premier intervene to ensure seniors’ Charter right to vote are guaranteed.

Highlights:

  • Before calling the election, Premier Higgs could have convened the Legislature to ensure the NB Elections Act would have sufficient provisions and flexibility to deal with the realities of COVID-19.
  • On August 25, Chief Electoral Officer Kim Poffenroth revealed to Brunswick News how the NB Elections Act did not give her the authority to create a special voting process, special hours, methods or any tailored voting process to help immunocompromised seniors. Voting by phone would have been possible in October if Election NB had received the go ahead before the election was called.
  • The NB Council of Nursing-Home Unions has made it clear that there are insufficient staffing levels in nursing homes to assist Elections NB personnel to help seniors vote.

Quotes:

  • “The Premier has knowingly planned an election without serious considerations for seniors’ right to vote. This is either crass negligence or an electoral move to raise barriers against the very people who would want to vote against his attempt at a power grab.” – Brien Watson, President of CUPE NB.
  • “CUPE NB believes that seniors, just like any other group of citizens, deserve fairness and equity. Despite what Higgs might wish for, seniors’ right to vote is guaranteed under article 3 of the Charter. They should not face any barriers to exercise their constitutional right to vote.” – Brien Watson

Quick facts:

  • If citizens are unable to exercise their right to vote because of obstacles inherent in the electoral rules or the way they are implemented, these barriers constitute a restriction which is not allowed under Article 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.[1]
  • In 2017, GNB’ Aging Strategy showed there were 147,929 seniors in NB, which is equal to 19.5% of our total population.[2]

[1] Bringing the Ballot Box to Voters: In 1992, Federal Bill C-78 was passed to make access to the vote easier in a number of ways. Among the improvements were mobile polling stations that serve many seniors and persons with disabilities in the institutions where they live. https://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=his&document=chap4&lang=e

 

[2] https://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/sd-ds/pdf/Seniors/AnAgingStrategyForNB.pdf

Workplace Death Threats Must Be Treated Seriously

Moncton, NB – CUPE Local 1252, the union representing 10 000 healthcare workers in New Brunswick, denounces Regional Health Authorities’ inaction on a series of death threats made to a hospital worker in Moncton. https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0879/0542/products/pc1519@2x.jpg?v=1514009356

Over the course of 8 months, a CUPE member working in a Moncton area hospital received 3 death threats. The first two were put on the employee’s locker as notes, and the most recent note was left in early August 2020, inside the locker. The notes contained discriminatory language that was an attack on the LGBTQ community and the victim’s sexual orientation.

“The Employer did not treat the issue seriously until the Union pushed them to have a formal investigation,” said Denis Brun, CUPE National Representative, for the Moncton Hospital and the George L. Dumont Hospital.

“Management did nothing until the third note. At first, they treated this like a joke. They even told the victim to take a 5-minute break, shrug it off and get back to work. This is unacceptable,” said Brun.

To this day, the Employer has not yet discovered the identity of the perpetrator.

The presidents of each local in the NB Council of Hospital Unions are asking politicians to improve the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  “Workplace violence and harassment is mentioned in the law, but the Act needs real teeth to compel employers to investigate such acts seriously,” say Tiffenny Lloyd and Susan Touchie, presidents of CUPE Locals 821 and 720.

 Up until April 1, 2019, New Brunswick was the only Canadian province or territory with no Occupational Health and Safety regulatory scheme dealing specifically with workplace violence and harassment.

In the Spring of 2018, CUPE surveyed its healthcare members. Over 56% of the respondents claimed to have filed a violent incident report and were not satisfied by their Employer’s response. Up to 25% of respondents say no actions were ever taken by their Employer after filing an incident report.  

Fredericton Transit Workers: Province Should Take Transit Funds

August 14, 2020 – CUPE Local 1783, representing municipal transit workers in Fredericton, is adding its voice to other unions, associations and municipalities pushing Higgs to opt in on federal transit funds.

“Premier Higgs said he had opted out of the transit portion of the Safe Restart Agreement apparently because there was only capital funding for infrastructure. That’s not correct. There are also operating funds available to address municipal transit shortcomings related to COVID-19,” said Lori Forget, President of CUPE Local 1783.

In Ontario, the provincial government opted in the transit portion of the Safe Restart Agreement. Guelph, which is comparable in size to Greater Moncton, is receiving $5,096,534 for its transit system.

“The province has nothing to lose in compensating municipalities for lost fare revenue and maintain transit service levels for both public health and economic reasons,” added Forget.

“The government should take advantage of the operating fund and also look at infrastructure cost shares,” said CUPE NB President Brien Watson. “NB has one of the oldest municipal bus fleets in the country. If we want to make a just transition to a clean, green economy and society, that requires an expanded and more accessible public transit system,” he added.

 

“We are proud to stand together on this issue with our union brothers and sisters of the Amalgamated Transit Union locals in Moncton and Saint John,” concluded Watson.

 

CUPE Local 1783 represents 45 municipal transit workers in Fredericton. 

Majority of NB Nursing Home Workers Ratify New Agreement

Fredericton, July 6 2020 – Today the majority of the NB Council of Nursing Home Union (NBCNHU) members approved the tentative agreement reached between their bargaining team and the provincial government.

Over the last two weeks, the 51 nursing homes represented by the NBCNHU participated in the ratification process of the tentative agreement that was reached on May 26, 2020. The 6-year deal covers the period between October 2016 to October 2022.

Each of the 51 nursing home union locals’ members had the right to accept or refuse the deal through secret ballot. Forty-five locals voted in favour to accept and 6 locals voted to reject.

“Although the NBCNHU supported bringing the tentative agreement back for over 4400 members to decide, we all agree, this deal does not fix all the working conditions issues in our field,” said Sharon Teare, President of the NB Council of Nursing Homes.

“We will continue to push the Government on being accountable to the Letters of Agreement to address the increased acuity of care with every home and increase direct care hours. For those 6 homes that have rejected the deal, we will reach out to them in order to determine what our next step will be,” said Teare.

The NBCNHU recognizes how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated the crisis that has been affecting long-term care for years. “Just like healthcare, long-term care should be a true, universal and accessible public service,” said Teare. “Decades of underfunding, understaffing, poor working conditions reveal how we need an overhaul that goes beyond bargaining,” she added. “This will be an election issue,” she concluded.

The NB Council of Nursing Home Unions represents 4400 workers in 51 nursing homes throughout NB.