About 70 nursing home workers and supporters protested Tuesday in Moncton outside the constituency office of Ernie Steeves, the province's finance minister. (CBC)
Contract talks involving thousands of New Brunswick nursing home workers continued into a second day as protests also took place in multiple cities around the province.
Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and supporters held protests in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton and Miramichi after a weekend court order temporary blocked the union from going on strike.
The union represents 4,100 licensed practical nurses, resident attendants and support workers at 46 non-profit nursing homes.
The New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions, representing locals at the 46 homes, met with the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes and a provincial government representative in Fredericton. They agreed to a media blackout on details of the negotiations. Jodi Hall, executive director of the association, said in an email Tuesday afternoon the two sides continue to negotiate.
They met along with a representative of the provincial government at the Fredericton Inn on Monday for the first time since union members voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike.
While the union gave its strike notice over the weekend, the government got a court order that prevents a strike for now.
More than 60 union members and supporters protested along Mountain Road in Moncton near Finance Minister Ernie Steeves' constituency office. Steeves was not there. Taylor McGrath, a resident attendant at Kenneth E. Spencer Memorial Home in Moncton, was among those at the rally.
"We're here to show people we need the higher wages, we need more time for our clients," she said.
McGrath said the role involves cleaning and bathing residents, which is becoming more difficult as the number of heavier residents or residents with mental disabilities increases.
The workers represented by CUPE have been working without a contract since 2016. A tentative agreement was rejected in 2018 that included an annual wage increase of one per cent. Current wages range between $18 and $24 an hour, depending on the position. A deadlock was declared in late February and union members voted last week in favour of a strike. The union gave its strike notice early Saturday.
A December 2018 labour board ruling and subsequent clarification issued last week meant essential services legislation no longer applied and workers would all have been able to strike.
The province is seeking a judicial review of the labour board decision. On Friday, it also sought a stay of the board's ruling that would keep essential services legislation in effect until the judicial review is complete. The following day, Court of Queen's Bench Justice David Smith granted an interim 10-day stay order. But Smith also ordered a date be set within those 10 days to decide whether to grant a stay lasting until the judicial review of the labour board ruling is complete.
A hearing was initially scheduled for Friday morning in Moncton, though will instead be held in Fredericton at a date not yet set.
The union has accused the provincial government of using the stay to eliminate its right to strike. Dorothy Shephard, the minister of social development, said the province sought the stay to protect the safety of nursing home residents.
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