Newly unionized Miramichi nursing home staff fight for same job security as peers, says NBU
KRIS MCDAVID MIRAMICHI LEADER
Nearly 20 staff of the two Miramichi nursing homes slated to close upon the arrival of a new 240-bed facility are being denied the same job-security guarantees offered to some of their colleagues by the provincial government,according to the New Brunswick Union.
Officials with the NBU confirmed on Thursday the organization had certified two new collective bargaining units in January consisting of 18 staff of Mount St.Joseph Nursing Home and the Miramichi Senior Citizens Home.
The move comes several months after the government came to an agreement with workers at both facilities who were already unionized under the Canadian Union of Public Employees [CUPE].
Last summer, Seniors and Long-term Care Minister Lisa Harris confirmed that stipulations had been written into the request for proposals for the incoming privately operated nursing home requiring the proponent to respect the current collective agreements, seniority, rates of pay, pensions and benefits of any employees who transfer over to the new facility.
The workers covered under that guarantee, however, were members of CUPE Locals 1277 and 1256, which represents most of the front-line caregiving staff at both the Mount and the MSCH.
Left outside of that scope and, therefore, without any job security once the new nursing home opens up were several supervisory positions, professional staff and administrative workers at the city’s two current homes.
NBU president Susie Proulx-Daigle said her organization was hoping to remedy some of that by stepping in and organizing 19 of those employees who previously didn’t have any union protection or bargaining rights.
That process was finalized on Jan, 13, she said, however the newly-formed units were quickly informed by the department that the same courtesy would not be extended to them.
She said the New Brunswick Union doesn’t plan on taking the decision lying down.
“The winning proponent of the RFP has not been selected and it could have amended – instead, a group of workers have been singled out amongst their colleagues and a two-tier system created,” she said.
“The NBU feels this decision by the provincial government lacks fairness, accountability and transparency – government is siding with a yet-to-be-named for-profit corporation over the hard-working people of Miramichi with families to support.”
Proulx-Daigle said the NBU received a letter from Harris’s office which stated the department’s job-security commitments under the RFP only applied to those unionized staff who had been certified prior to June 2016.
Because of that,the NBU says it was informed that no changes would be made to the nursing home RFP,which the minister said recently is in its final stages.
Harris confirmed those details on Friday, saying that she was aware a new union had been formed to represent management employees at Mount St. Joseph and the Miramichi Senior Citizens Home.
She also said that their new bargaining unit was formed too late in the process to be considered as part of the scope of the RFP, reiterating that’s the reason why their request for inclusion had ultimately been denied.
“This particular union local was created after the RFQ [request for qualifications] process was completed and the RFP process had already begun,” Harris said.“It would not be appropriate to change the terms and conditions of the RFP in the middle of this process.”
Still, Harris said she encouraged all staff, including the management, administrative and professional workers at both homes, to apply for positions at the new nursing home when the time comes.
She pointed to another provision in the nursing home RFP requesting the successful proponent to consider these employees as part of their hiring plans and providing a detailed plan to government highlighting how they might achieve that objective.
Labour-related concerns brought forward by the two CUPE unions following the government’s initial announcement of the new nursing home in 2015, meanwhile, stalled the project by nearly a year.
Unionized staff organized several protests against the government’s commitment to using a P3 model to develop the new facility,ultimately presenting Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Bill Fraser with a petition bearing thousands of signatures outside his office.
Eventually, the protests stopped and both sides began to negotiate ways of ensuring existing nursing home staff had at least some protection.
The government last June emerged with a plan in place, the details of which were well-received by CUPE officials.
The NBU, for its part, says it believes the government could alter the scope of the RFP even at this late juncture.
Proulx-Daigle said she doesn’t understand why the union’s request was shut down so quickly.
“This is a very disappointing position for government to take – government talks about job creation as a priority, but when it has the chance to protect the jobs of New Brunswick workers, they side with business,”Proulx-Daigle said.
“It’s an unfortunate situation which has made the lives of several people uncertain in terms of their employment and financial stability.”
The Gallant Liberals in 2015 said any new nursing home builds would be done through a public-private partnership.
Three different companies,Harris confirmed earlier this month,are being considered under the RFP.
One of the three has been identified as the Halifax-based Shannex corporation, which already operates three other P3 nursing homes elsewhere in the province.
Shannex’s bid became public after having a pair of variances on two separate properties in the city go before the Greater Miramichi Regional Service Commission’s Planning Review and Adjustment Committee in February.
The Shannex proposal entails the development of a two-storey,220-bed longterm care facility on land located directly across from the Miramichi Regional Hospital in Chatham Head.
That project would include 180 beds designated for nursing home care as well as 40 beds earmarked for memory care. It would also include an adult day facility, a provision written into the RFP by government.
The other side of Shannex’s plans include a retirement living community on a large property situated across from Kent Building Supplies along the King George Highway.
This development would feature two separate buildings, one with 60 nursing home beds and 10 memory care beds, as well as a three-storey building with 22 assisted-living suites.
Outdoor recreational space for activities such as mini-putt and bocce ball is also proposed for the site.
Harris has said the government hopes to have a developer identified sometime this summer with construction beginning not long after.