Court to rule Monday on New Brunswick nursing home workers' right to strike

There was a noisy protest outside while more subdued legal arguments unfolded inside a Fredericton courtroom Friday.

At issue is whether New Brunswick nursing home workers are allowed to strike.

The government says they're not and a judge will decide on Monday.

The nursing home association and the province of New Brunswick are going head-to-head with the nursing home workers unions.

Brett Robertson, a nursing home resident, joined the protest outside the courthouse.

“I just came to support them because these women and men work their guts out,” Robertson said.

Inside the courthouse, the procedural wrangling unfolded.

“The first motion was to rescind the injunction and the stay that was granted. Second motion is to attack the affidavits that the attorney general and the association have been using,” said union lawyer Joël Michaud.

The big issue was whether union members have the right to strike. Last Saturday's 10-day stay prevents long-term care workers from hitting the picket lines.

York Care Centre has essential service status and is the exception. There, a small fraction can strike after receiving approval from the labour board.

The union says the provincial government has taken away workers' right to strike, which they say is the only power they have at the bargaining table.

“It is in the public interest to ensure that legislation that's subject to constitutional attack,that such legislation gets to stay in place,” said Christian Michaud, the lawyer for New Brunswick’s Attorney General.

Along withthe nursing home association, counsel for the province's attorney general says there is nothing there to protect residents if the essential service in nursing home act is ultimately challenged.

Justice Paulette Garnett specified early on she would give a final oral decision on Monday at 1:30 p.m., roughly 12 hours before the end of this 10-day stay. Union members are disappointed, to say the least.

“Very inconsiderate,” said personal support worker Nicole Munn. “It's a slap in the face, but we're used to it by now. So we're just going to take the punches and keep going.”

CUPE New Brunswick president Danny Legere was not happy.

“It’s disappointing for me and I'm sure for everyone who gathered here to hear the news,” he said.

The original court injunction was granted by Chief Justice David Smith in Moncton. Part of today's arguments were about whether Justice Garnett has jurisdiction to challenge and rescind the previous order.

“We're happy with the arguments that were made and we very much look forward to the decision on Monday,” said Jodi Hall, the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes executive director. “Everything we're doing is just to protect residents.

Even with Monday's decision looming, it may take a long time before a higher court settles this matter definitively.