The provincial holiday on Monday marked five weeks until Labour Day, the deadline CUPE New Brunswick gave to Premier Higgs to deal fairly with CUPE members at the bargaining table. The union is currently organizing in preparation for province-wide action by 22,000 members.
CUPE NB President Steve Drost and CUPE Maritimes Director Sandy Harding were mingling with other New Brunswickers in the capital on Monday, including political leaders Blaine Higgs and Roger Melanson. The day was “not for political talk” said Drost, but to keep the relationships ongoing and cordial and to “show the premier that we’re here and still hoping to get a decent contract for the workers.”
“We’re proud New Brunswickers,” said Harding, noting that CUPE leaders have always come to the official New Brunswick ceremonies, no matter where they are. “It’s really fitting that frontline workers kept this province going [during the pandemic] and so celebrating frontline workers on New Brunswick Day is important to us.”
Drost explained that organizing for the province-wide action is continuing. All the provincial executives are meeting on August 9 and 10. Activities are planned for the end of the month, including a “workers’ summit” in Fredericton in a large tent. On August 28, marches will be held in 13 communities across the province “to show respect for the frontline workers who got us through this pandemic.”
What is CUPE looking for at the bargaining table? The cost of living increase must be the starting point, said Drost. “Cost of living plus, or members will just continue to get further behind. We now have members running into food security issues, because rents have just gone through the ceiling.”
Harding works in both New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. “PEI is a very different place,” she explained. “That smaller province pays their public servants better. They have better economic wage increases because they realized a long time ago that it actually helps their economy, and it helps in recruitment and retention. So, it’s a big difference between the two provinces and the result is also a big difference. PEI does not have the recruitment and retention problem we have, and in fact we have New Brunswickers working in PEI for the better wages.”
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is the largest public sector union in Canada and in New Brunswick.
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.