With the clock ticking on CUPE New Brunswick’s strike vote ultimatum to Premier Higgs, a recent agreement offers new hope for a constructive return to the bargaining table.
A meeting with the Premier last week ended in an agreement with CUPE NB to have central bargaining on wages for all CUPE provincial locals. This means that all CUPE members in the province without a contract could potentially agree much more rapidly on a wage increase – if the government is willing to budge from its current position.
At the end of May, CUPE NB President Steve Drost gave the Premier until Labour Day to settle on fair wages or face job action. By Labour Day, 22,000 public sector CUPE members will be without a contract. Some have been waiting more than four years for a raise and their wages are losing buying power every year.
The Higgs austerity government is offering all public sector workers a zero wage increase in the first year of their contract, followed by one percent every year in the three years after. However, the cost of living (inflation) is going up every year. The Bank of Canada has calculated that from July 2017 to July 2021, inflation has risen more than nine percent.
CUPE is the largest public sector union in the province. While the union continues to organize in preparation for province-wide action, wage negotiations at the central table will also move forward, although dates have yet been set for those negotiations. Elements other than wages will continue to be negotiated by the separate locals after the wages have been agreed.
After the meeting with HIggs on August 17, Steve Drost said: “I hope premier Higgs is ready to offer a fair deal to workers, who are tired of being amongst the lowest paid in Canada. Government won’t climb out of the current recruitment and retention crisis if there are no real wage improvements for ordinary workers.”
The CUPE members represented at the central bargaining table will be:
- Local 1190 – General Labour and Trades (without a contract since December 15, 2017)
- Local 1418 – Rehabilitation and Therapy and RCPO (without a contract since August 15, 2017)
- Local 1251 – Institutional Care and Services (without a contract since June 15, 2017)
- Local 1840 – Provincial Court Stenographers (without a contract since September 30, 2016)
- Local 1253 – New Brunswick Council of School District Unions (without a contract since March 31, 2019)
- Local 2745 – Education Support Staff (without a contract since February 28, 2018)
- Local 1252 – New Brunswick Council of Hospital Unions (NBCHU) (without a contract since June 30, 2019)
All the CUPE locals above are in Parts I, II and III of the provincial public service and bargain directly with the Higgs government. The government cannot bargain directly with Part IV CUPE locals because they work for Crown corporations (including NB Liquor, NBCC and CCNB). Part IV locals without a contract will be observers to the central table – however in practice the results of the central table could have an impact on bargaining with their Crown corporation employers as well.
As a next step in building public support for the upcoming bargaining, CUPE NB is inviting all its members, their supporters, and the public to show their appreciation and give thanks to all front-line essential workers on Saturday, August 28 at 10am at various locations around the province. A CUPE statement reads: “We are marching to recognize and give thanks to all front-line essential workers, who provided important public services to the citizens of New Brunswick during the COVID-19 pandemic. These workers are there for you day in and day out, and they stepped up during the pandemic to keep all of us safe, and our Province moving forward. We welcome everyone’s participation for this special event. Bring your family and friends and let’s give these workers the recognition and thanks they truly deserve.”
This story was updated on August 23 to include information on the status of CUPE locals in Part IV of the public service and central bargaining.
Susan O’Donnell writes for the NB Media Co-op.