About three dozen people, many waving yellow solidarity fists, gathered at Sackville Memorial Hospital on Saturday, August 28 before walking down Main Street to the Farmers Market.
They were taking part in one of several rallies and walks in New Brunswick to support more than 22,000 public-sector workers who warn they’re ready to go on strike next month to back their call for substantial wage increases.
Many of the workers, who are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), have been without contracts for five years and are among the lowest paid public-sector workers in Canada.
They work in a wide variety of fields including in the prison and court systems as well as in transportation, tourism and education.
“I think the biggest thing is we’ve just got to stick together,” said Shelley Ward, a member of CUPE Local 2745.
She works as an educational assistant during the school year, but collects EI in the summer.
She says educational assistants have faced rounds of government cutbacks and there are too few supports to help them do their jobs effectively.
“We just need to stick together so that they know that we’re important and we’re not asking for a whole lot,” Ward said as people gathered in the hospital parking lot.
“We just have to show that this is important, and the hospital’s important, and that our jobs are what keeps everything going.”
Ward was referring to nearly 10,000 front-line, health-care workers in a wide range of fields including paramedics, licenced practical nurses, patient-care attendants, as well as members of hospital caretaking, maintenance and clerical staffs.
Their union, CUPE Local 1252, warned in a news release last spring that there are chronic shortages among hospital support staff including an estimated shortage of 200 licenced practical nurses as well as 100 vacant paramedic positions.
Meantime, the union that represents New Brunswick’s registered nurses estimated last month that there are at least 854 vacant nursing positions in hospitals and long-term care homes.
ER closed all weekend
“This is a mess, is the easiest way I could describe it,” former Mayor John Higham said during the rally outside the hospital.
“COVID made us understand how important health services were to us,” he added.
Higham, who has been part of a committee seeking to protect local hospital services, stressed the crucial need for enough staff to run the hospital and operate its emergency room.
“Today is a perfect example. [ER] closed last night, last minute, all weekend long. None of us knew anything about it. We didn’t get any notice of it,” he said.
“We understand there’s staffing issues,” he added. “That has to be overcome, but it should never have gotten this far.”