N.B. nursing home workers stage sit-in, protest outside minister's office

Nursing home workers were protesting outside the Fredericton office of New Brunswick’s social development minister Thursday while a handful of union executives staged a sit-in inside the building.

The executives of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions first gathered in Dorothy Shephard’s office Wednesday morning in the hopes of meeting with her.

In a statement last week, Shephard said the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes had presented the workers with an enhanced offer, but the workers say they have yet to see it.

“We’re asking her to produce the recent stated enhanced wage package that was provided to us, which we have not yet seen,” said Sharon Teare, president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions.

Union executives say they would like to discuss the offer with Shephard and are prepared to camp inside her office as long as necessary.

They were unable to meet with her Wednesday as she was out of office.

“We’re prepared to be here all night,” said Kelly Godin, the recording secretary for the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions, Wednesday evening.

“We have our sleeping bags and our pillows and we’re ready.”

The executives spent the night in Shephard’s office and remained there Thursday morning as protesters gathered outside the building.

Police were on scene and the protesters were banned from entering the building.

According to protesters, security prohibited them from re-entering the building if they chose to leave to get food or medication. 

But several MLAs, including Rick Desaulniers of the People's Alliance and Liberals Monique LeBlanc, Lisa Harris and Stephen Horsman delivered supplies and voiced their support for those who were protesting.

“These are our neighbours and our friends, and they've peacefully trying to get a meeting with the minister,” said Harris. “How awful that they need to go to this extreme.”

The workers say they're unsatisfied with conditions the provincial government presented for binding arbitration.

“Either workers have the right to strike or have a right to binding arbitration,” said CUPE spokesperson Simon Ouellette.“This binding arbitration cannot have a bunch of imposed restrictions.”

Nursing home workers in New Brunswick have been without a contract for 30 months and are currently legally prevented from going on strike, although that decision is subject to another judicial review on May 24.

In a statement Thursday, Shephard said the department informed the mediator they are ready to go back to the bargaining table as early as next Thursday, and that “the provincial government remains committed to productive negotiations with nursing home workers.”

As protests persist outside, long-term care workers remain firm.

“We slept here, we stayed here, and we're staying here until Dorothy picks up the phone,” Ouellette said.

(With files from CTV Atlantic’s Jessica Ng)