The CUPE New Brunswick leadership team has started the countdown on the “100 Days For a Fair Deal” campaign.
CUPE NB President Steve Drost issued the ultimatum to Premier Higgs this past Friday and the clock started yesterday. The timer will run down to zero on Labour Day, September 7. If the Higgs government refuses to act on fair wages by that date, the CUPE leadership will coordinate province-wide actions.
Currently, 21,860 CUPE NB members are in bargaining. Of this number, more than 8,580 have reached a deadlock, and more than 13,280 are headed that way over the summer. Many have contracts that expired four years ago. All are public sector workers, and most have been providing front-line services throughout the pandemic.
At a media event on Friday, Drost said members do not want to disrupt public services, but they have waited too long for a fair deal. “The Premier continues to say he is worried about vulnerable citizens, but he is going to be forcing job actions on the citizens of New Brunswick.”
Higgs has given clear direction to all the public sector bargaining teams: the wage offer for workers is zero for the first year and one percent for the three following years. That offer is below the inflation rate – if members accept it, they will be accepting a pay cut.
Drost explained that the CUPE local bargaining teams “have been respectful, flexible, and responsible and professional,” while work has continued during the pandemic.
“Offering them zeros at this time is very antagonistic,” Drost continued. “What is his endgame here? This is just totally unacceptable.”
Who is leading CUPE New Brunswick?
At the media event, Drost said the CUPE leadership making decisions during the 100-day ultimatum period starts with the “very strong” four-person inner executive: Drost, Sharon Teare, Kim Copp, and Sandy Harding.
Working closely with the inner executive are “really good strong leaders – 17 or 18 – at the leadership table,” he said. “Some have many years’ experience, some not so much, but all have their heart and mind in the right place, and every one of us is committed to fighting for fairness.”
The core leadership team will be working closely in the days ahead to coordinate the CUPE locals, leaders, members and staff to do the work required leading up to the Labour Day deadline.
Drost said he “feels honored and very excited to be working with this team.” He added: “I’m surrounded by some extremely strong women. I recognize and value that tremendously, and it just makes me think of our municipal elections that we just had the other day. The number of women leaders that have stepped into some of the key and top positions in this province is very promising.”
Here is a profile of the CUPE NB inner executive.
Steve Drost, CUPE NB President
For more than 33 years, until his election as CUPE President a month ago, Drost was a full-time front-line social worker for the Province of New Brunswick. When he assumed his President role, a full-time position, Drost took a leave of absence from his provincial employment.
Drost became active in his Local, CUPE 1418, more than 30 years ago. Over the years, he took on many leadership roles, most recently the President-elect for Local 1418, representing more than 1,100 professionals across New Brunswick. He was the CUPE NB 1st Vice-President from 2019 until his election as President at the CUPE NB Annual General Meeting in April.
Drost has hands-on experience with strikes, including the 1992 General Strike and two strikes with CUPE 1418.
Drost told the NB Media Co-op that “my passions include my family, friends, music, fishing, the outdoors, lifelong learning and trying to make a positive difference in people’s lives.”
Read all the NB Media Co-op stories that mention Steve Drost here.
Sharon Teare, CUPE NB 1st Vice President
Sharon Teare is a CUPE inner executive member well known to many New Brunswickers, through her high-profile advocacy for nursing home worker and residents during recent years. She was elected CUPE NB 1st Vice-President at the 2021 AGM last month.
President of the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions (NBCNHU) since 2018, Teare represents more than 4,400 workers, including licensed practical nurses, resident attendants, and support workers from 46 nursing homes across the province.
Teare is a resident attendant employed for more than 20 years at the Church of St. John & St Stephen Nursing Home.
Teare told the NB Media Co-op that her highest honour is “to care for and provide assistance to those who paved the way for today’s generation.” She currently serves as a board member for the Coalition of Seniors and Nursing Home Residents Rights and is “passionate about ensuring that nursing home workers, residents and their families’ concerns and issues are communicated.
Teare said she is proud to be “mother of two grown children and three beautiful grandchildren.”
Read all the stories that mention Sharon Teare here.
Kim Copp, CUPE NB Secretary-Treasurer
Kim Copp has been a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) at Forest Dale nursing home in Riverside-Albert since 2005. She got involved in her local union “to help workers in this small community achieve fairness.” She began her union work as membership officer, then recording secretary, Vice-President and eventually, President of her local for the past 12 years.
Through her work as a member of the LPN committee for the NBCNHU, the Political Action committee for CUPE NB and, on the national level, with the CUPE National Childcare working group, Copp said she gained experience, connections, and friendships.
Copp was elected CUPE NB Secretary-Treasurer in 2020. One of her main concerns is the recruitment and retention issues that “have evolved into crisis levels in many sectors, in part due to the stagnant wages and lack of ability for workers to keep up with costs of living.” Since her election to the provincial position, she continues to provide care for the residents of her community.
Copp told the NB Media Co-op she “realizes it will be no easy feat to hurdle the roadblocks facing workers in New Brunswick at the hands of this government, who have made it no secret they are not willing to negotiate fairly and in good faith.”
She also believes that “the workers have the heart and soul to achieve fairness together with their team of leaders and to help move their province forward.”
Sandy Harding, CUPE Regional Director Maritimes
Sandy Harding is known to New Brunswickers as a strong champion of workers’ rights. A long-time labour and social justice activist, Sandy became the CUPE Regional Director of the Maritimes in 2017.
Harding has almost 30 years of experience as a labour activist with CUPE, beginning in 1992 as a member of CUPE Local 2745, Education Support Staff. She served in various elected roles and became President of the provincial local in 2004.
During her time as President of CUPE 2745, she held the positions of 1st Vice-President of CUPE NB, CUPE National Executive Board member, and 1st Vice-President of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour. She accepted a permanent CUPE National Servicing Representative staff position in 2013.
Harding’s activism extends beyond the labour movement into social justice causes. She is an active member of the Child Care Coalition, the Pay Equity Coalition, and the Common Front for Social Justice. A strong voice for women in New Brunswick, Harding told the NB Media Co-op that she is “a proud mother of five.”
Read all the NB Media Co-op stories that mention Sandy Harding here.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is Canada’s largest union, with 700,000 members across the country. CUPE represents workers in health care, emergency services, education, early learning and childcare, municipalities, social services, libraries, utilities, transportation, airlines and more. CUPE has more than 70 offices across the country, in every province. CUPE New Brunswick represents more than 28,000 workers in the province.
Susan O’Donnell writes for the NB Media Co-op.
Access all of NB Media Co-op’s coverage of the events leading up to the CUPE strike here.
Read all of NB Media Co-op’s coverage of the 2021 CUPE strike here.