Members of N.B. Nurses Union will begin casting votes this week to determine strike action

New Brunswick nurses will begin casting their votes on Thursday to determine whether or not they’re willing to go on strike.

The looming possibility of workers walking off the job has New Brunswick’s Coalition for Seniors executive director worried about the state of health care provincewide.

“If there is a strike, we are in a crisis. We’re in a near-crisis at this point, but I can tell you we are in a crisis and I hope that we don’t get to that point,” said Cecile Cassista, from her Riverview, N.B. home.

Registered nurses, nurse practitioners, nurse managers and supervisors have been without a contract since December 2018.

Two tentative agreements were rejected by the New Brunswick Nurses Union earlier this fall, leaving negotiations at a standstill ever since.

Relations between the two sides took a hit Tuesday after comments were made in the legislature by Premier Blaine Higgs.

“I was actually quite disappointed with the statement made by the premier that we at the NBNU had received a counteroffer, when in fact, we’ve not. So, yes. I was very much taken aback by that comment made by our premier,” NBNU President Paula Doucet told CTV News Wednesday during a Zoom interview.

Doucet says during CTV's Question Period, Higgs suggested negotiation talks were being stalled by a lack of response from the union to a revised contract offer given to them weeks ago, but Doucet says no such offer exists.

When asked about his previous comments, Higgs responded by saying, "There comes a point where you need a counter-proposal because I can’t keep revising my own agreements and hoping for the best. It’s like, alright, give us a counter and that’s normally how negotiations work.”

With the strike vote beginning Thursday, Cassista says while she supports the workers right to strike, she’s worried about patient safety.

She says the COVID-19 pandemic, mandatory employee vaccination requirements and recent strikes by CUPE members have taken a toll on the over-worked health-care system across the province.

“You are putting people's lives at risk if you’re forcing the nurses to go out on strike and that’s exactly what it is, forcing the nurses to go out on strike,” said Cassista.

Doucet acknowledged the unfortunate timing, saying nurses face constant moral and ethical dilemmas, but feels they have no other option at this time.

“I think this is more about making a statement that their working conditions are deplorable. That they are one of the lowest-paid professionals across the country, and things need to change,” said Doucet. 

Voting will finish on Sunday, Dec. 5 and results are expected the following day.