Several hundred members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) held a “Rally for Fair Wages” in front of the provincial Legislature on March 19. The rally, also attended by members of other unions and the general public, was in support of nursing home workers seeking a pay increase from the Progressive Conservative (PC) government.
Labour leaders as well as the leaders of the PC, Liberal, Green, and People’s Alliance (PANB) parties addressed the crowd.
CUPE New Brunswick president Daniel Légère demanded real wage increases for public sector workers in New Brunswick, saying that those wages had been eroded in the last ten years, in some cases by 10 percent.
PANB party leader Kris Austen blamed the discord between public sector workers and the government on “decades of Liberal and Conservative mismanagement” and promised to try to get the nursing home workers “somewhat of a pay increase.”
The rally was timed to coincide with the tabling of the province’s 2019-20 budget by Finance Minister Ernie Steeves.
Steve Drost of the CUPE NB executive criticized the PC government as well as the preceding Liberal government for “blaming their financial inadequacies on the civil service.”
The nursing home workers are in stalled contract negotiations with the PC government, as well as in a court dispute with the government over whether they are an “essential service” and thus barred from striking.
Minerva Porelle, Secretary-Treasurer of CUPE NB and of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions, told the Premier it was a “shame” that “you want to balance your budget on the backs of the senior citizens.”
Légère deplored several aspects of the budget, including tying public sector wages to performance targets and “giving all MLAs $40,000 as a slush fund to spend in their constituencies.”
Légère told Premier Higgs: “Be scared of workers’ power. You have a very fragile minority government. We can, and we will, topple that government…. Today is the start of our journey to topple this government.”
Other speakers at the rally included Sharon Teare, president of the NB Council of Nursing Home Unions; Patrick Colford, president of the NB Federation of Labour; and Leah Logan, president of CUPE Local 946 (WorkSafe NB Rehab).
Norm Knight reports on labour and environmental issues for the NB Media Co-op.