May Day brought a new look to the Department of Social Development office in Fredericton as nursing home workers staged an occupation. Sharon Teare, president of the CUPE New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions, members of her bargaining team, and local members and supporters said they would stay until the Minister of Social Development Dorothy Shephard agreed to restart meaningful negotiations.
As of press time, the morning of May 2, the occupation continues of the Social Development office.
From March 11 until the last bargaining meeting March 29, government negotiators have met only 128 minutes with the CUPE bargaining team. Nursing home workers were forced to take the direct action of occupying a building after the latest court ruling last week. The New Brunswick Appeals court ruled that CUPE workers do not have the right to strike while the government appeals a labour board ruling that government legislation cannot designate nursing home work an essential service.
In an interview with the NB Media Co-op during the occupation, Teare said: “This is a sector that’s in crisis, this is a sector that cares for the most vulnerable in our community, and because the minister and the government are not valuing and respecting the process, they are not respecting the people who live in nursing homes.”
The Higgs PC government and the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes continue to spend time and money using the courts rather than to respectfully work with the nursing home workers and CUPE representatives to produce a just settlement for everyone. The occupation in Fredericton was replicated throughout the province May 1 as hundreds of CUPE members reportedly demonstrated outside the 46 nursing homes in New Brunswick. Their actions were the latest demonstration of the strength of CUPE support, following a rally April 12 with 500 CUPE members and supporters outside government offices in Fredericton.
Recently-elected CUPE New Brunswick President Brien Watson and CUPE members from other locals joined the nursing home workers occupying the building in a show of support. At one point in the early evening about 30 workers filled the hallway outside the minister’s office. Kevin Arseneau, MLA for Kent North, spoke with the workers in the hallway to reinforce his support for a settlement through binding arbitration, a position supported by his Green Party and the Liberals in the Legislature but opposed by the PC and People’s Alliance coalition government.
The CUPE members occupying the building were informed earlier in the day that the minister was away attending another event. They decided to remain in the hallway after the office closed to reinforce their demand for a meeting with the minister to obtain a firm commitment to negotiate in good faith instead of wasting resources in the courts. They were joined by other CUPE members and supporters later in the day. Fredericton police were called and confronted the protestors but as of late in the evening no arrests had been made.
The building is now closed to visitors without government ID. The bargaining team posted on Facebook: ” The Bargaining team has invited all MLAs to come and visit them to discuss the issues that brought us here. We asked them to bring breakfast with them to feed the team.” David Coon, MLA for Fredericton South and leader of the Green Party responded, bringing breakfast to the CUPE team before 8:00am. According to Sandy Harding, Regional Director for the Maritimes, Minister Shephard has ordered that food no longer be delivered. Harding is calling for solidarity from social workers and the wider community.
Brian Beaton is the NB Media Co-op calendar coordinator and Susan O’Donnell is a member of the editorial board.