After a topsy-turvy week that included picket lines, legislative threats and last minute bargaining, 2,500 nursing home workers in New Brunswick have won a new contract with some important gains.
The four-year deal raises wages by 12.5 per cent and has pension and benefit improvements. Equally important, progress was made on the crucial issue of workload. As part of the deal, the province agreed to undertake a comprehensive study of the workload situation in the provinces nursing homes. But it took members standing firm and CUPE pressure to get the province to clarify its position and pledge that the committee studying workload in the homes will be fully employer-funded, its membership will be half nursing home workers, and its recommendations will begin to be implemented no later than 2002.
The stage was set for a settlement after government representatives joined negotiations for the first time on Saturday. Bargaining continued throughout the weekend with a tentative deal reached shortly before the provincial government was slated to legislate an end to the dispute.
Picket lines went up Sunday morning, after the locals had served 24-hour strike notice. Some of the 35 locals held ratification votes within hours of the tentative deal, while most voted Monday to accept the offer. Four locals initially rejected the deal, requiring further bargaining to ensure the government put in writing its commitment to address workload.
Yesterday, the last three locals to accept the contract Fredericton, Riverside-Albert and Saint John, where the workload issue was especially acute ended their strike and returned to work.
The workload crisis still needs to be tackled in a much bigger way. As weve shown this week, we wont back down on this issue. We need more staff. The province and our employers need to realize this is only the beginning of our struggle. Said CUPE representative Gordon Black.
Were going back to work for the sake of our residents and because the province has promised that this is only the first step, said Michel Boudreau, president of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions. Were putting the government on notice: deal with the workload problem. We need solutions, not temporary band-aids. Our residents deserve better. And we demand it.