“How short are we today?”: Nursing home workers

Written by Brian Beaton on March 16, 2019

New Brunswick’s nursing home workers and their supporters rally outside the courthouse in Fredericton on March 15, 2019. Photo by Simon Ouellette.

What do most workers do when arriving at work each morning? What is “normal” discussion in offices and workplaces? Different workers attending a rally March 15 in Fredericton to support New Brunswick’s nursing home workers, raised the concept of “short” over and over in discussions.

Addressing the shortage of workers in the nursing homes is a primary concern. One worker from Saint John attending the Fredericton rally commented that the first question they hear most workers ask as they arrive for work at their nursing home is: “How short are we today?”

Improving working conditions and wages are the main requirements for the workers in these homes. Making the positions more attractive so others want to fill existing vacant positions and to reward existing workers for doing the difficult work required of them, is the union’s objective, as described by a CUPE union executive member.

After 28 months without a contract and consistently worsening work conditions, a near unanimous strike mandate was given by union members to the CUPE contract negotiators a week before the rally. The union members hoped the strike mandate would prompt positive movement by the management of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes to solve these issues. However instead of talking with the union, the government reacted with a court injunction that prevents any strike action until March 19.

On that March 15 morning, both parties were in court while the rally happened outside the Fredericton courthouse. The union is attempting to overturn the injunction, and the Progressive Conservative government is attempting to extend it. Union representatives from different locals came together to demand fair and just negotiations along with the right to strike.

One worker at the rally told the story of his parent who is living in a nursing home. His parent told him to get out there and protest the existing working and living conditions that workers and clients are experiencing in the homes. An immediate need is for more workers to fill the “shorts” in staffing. To attract more workers into this critical service, wages must increase so young people and family wage earners are able to take on this challenging work.

Other front line workers at the protest spoke about management and the government needing to change their priorities so the workers and the residents become their primary concern. Every union member involved in these work actions is determined to see justice served for all the workers and the people living in New Brunswick nursing homes. They hope management and the government will join them in creating a just and healthy living environment for New Brunswick elders.

Workers want to change the narrative in the nursing homes — instead of being driven to exhaustion by an unjust system, and talking about being short, they want to be sharing stories with their fellow workers and the residents about their histories, activities and futures in New Brunswick.

Brian Beaton is the NB Media Co-op calendar coordinator.

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