Contract talks at the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax are stalled, and the union representing more than 520 people who worked through the first wave of COVID-19 says the government is forcing them to wait until a separate contract dispute with other health-care unions is resolved.
"Acute care bargaining is currently in conciliation, so I don't think they want to set any type of precedent with Northwood," said Linda MacNeil, the Atlantic regional director for Unifor.
She said she believes Northwood workers are particularly deserving of better pay and working conditions, due to their work during the first wave of the pandemic when 345 Northwood residents and staff were infected by COVID-19, and 53 residents died.
MacNeil declined to say specifically what the union proposed, but in a press release Unifor said the workers were asking for "moderate wage increases, improvements to health and safety and measures to address the lack of adequate staffing."
Unifor says contract talks began on April 21, and the union was expecting to receive a response from Northwood by June 29, but instead Northwood's lead negotiator explained the care home did not have a mandate from the government. Northwood is a not-for-profit and is reliant upon the provincial government for funding.
Northwood CEO Janet Simm sent CBC News a brief statement about the negotiations, stating the employer values and respects its employees.
"We are fully committed to the bargaining process and will continue our efforts to work towards reaching an agreement," Simm wrote.
Counter-offer being reviewed
This week, the unions representing 7,500 health-care support workers were in three days of conciliation talks with Nova Scotia Health and the IWK Health Centre.
Unifor is one of the unions, alongside CUPE and the NSGEU. That group consists of non-nursing health-care workers, including continuing care assistants who perform similar work to the employees at Northwood.
On Wednesday afternoon, talks broke down. NSGEU president Jason MacLean said Nova Scotia Health and the IWK made an offer that he could not recommend to his members.
Nova Scotia Health and the IWK are reviewing the union's counter-offer.
MacLean said a strike vote will be held on Monday and he believes the earliest a strike could happen would be July 14 or 15.
MacNeil, who represents a union with a seat at both the Northwood and acute care negotiations, said she's concerned about a potential delay for resolving the Northwood contract talks.
Union warns of a 'very long process'
"That could take a very, very long process," she said. "So are the members at Northwood to wait another year? History has been in this province that acute care went first, then the long-term care."
In an emailed statement, the provincial spokesperson for labour relations, Chrissy Matheson, said the province is leaving comment on the process to Northwood and Unifor.
"We are grateful to the management of Northwood and to all the employees for their care, professionalism and commitment," the statement said in part.
"We won't speak to the details of collective bargaining, including the mandate, while the process is underway."
Matheson added the union is filing for conciliation for Northwood, and a conciliator has yet to be appointed.
MORE TOP STORIES