Fredericton made history on Feb. 13 by serving a lockout notice on its outside workers – the first time this has ever happened in the City. At 4:30pm, the more than 120 members of CUPE local 508 will be locked out of work – the workers who keep the City moving, including snowplow and other heavy equipment operators, water and sewer systems operators, and engineering and service technicians.
On Monday, Fredericton City Council voted in favour of a lockout if the workers issued a strike notice, a move intended to stop a rotating strike. CUPE 508 issued the strike notice yesterday evening, Feb. 13, following another futile day at the bargaining table with no enhanced offer by City management.
The collective agreement expired December 2018 and since then the main issue on the bargaining table has been fair wages – Fredericton outside workers are paid less than their counterparts in Moncton and other municipalities in the province. CUPE 508 President Kevin Smallwood said that the management offer would not bring the wages up to parity.
Public sector outside workers in many locations across the province are having significant difficulties reaching fair settlements with their employers. As reported by the NB Media Co-op earlier this week, outside workers in Saint John (CUPE 18), Moncton (CUPE 51) and Bathurst (CUPE 550) are also in negotiations after their contracts expired.
The CBC reported that also on Feb. 13, at a public landfill site in Allardville south of Bathurst, CUPE local 4193 members, 23 waste treatment and disposal workers, were locked out by their employer after failing to reach an agreement following 23 months of negotiations.
Municipal administrations across New Brunswick are claiming to have no funds to pay for public services. While the situation is different in each location, a common problem is a tax structure that deprives municipalities of the funds required to pay for the services it provides to residents. In a glaring example in Saint John, the provincial government’s 43% reduction in property taxes and cap on taxes for heavy industry and “sweetheart deals” has deprived the City of hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Smallwood told the NB Media Co-op that “unions are under attack across Canada,” and that solidarity is important at this time. Although CUPE 508 tried hard to avoid a strike situation, they are ready for it, he said. The union members will be meeting to finalize the strike preparation, including the picket strategy.
The union’s notice included an advisory for citizens of Fredericton that “the current weather we are receiving tonight may make driving conditions poor tonight and tomorrow as we are unable to properly clear the streets.” City managers will be operating the snowplows. The union is asking anyone with concerns about street conditions to contact the mayor and council to help get them back to work.
Immediately after the strike notice was posted, the Friends of CUPE 508 facebook page gathered dozens of messages of solidarity by members of CUPE locals across the province as well as other unions in New Brunswick.
CUPE 508 is planning a solidarity rally at City Hall. Updates and messages of solidarity are on the CUPE 508 Facebook page.
Susan O’Donnell is a member of the NB Media Co-op editorial board.