On Saturday, August 28, hundreds marched in demonstrations of solidarity with front-line workers in 14 communities across New Brunswick. The marches came a week after the government and the union agreed to central bargaining on wages.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the New Brunswick government (Treasury Board) are scheduled to return to the central bargaining table on Tuesday, August 31.
On that date, less than a week will remain until Labour Day, the deadline CUPE New Brunswick president Steve Drost gave Premier Blaine Higgs to bargain fairly or face coordinated job action. On September 7, more than 22,000 CUPE members in the province will be without a contract and in a legal position to call a strike vote. Some members have not had a contract, or a raise, for more than four years.
CUPE’s 100-day ultimatum to the government followed years of frustrations at the bargaining table. After the Higgs Progressive Conservatives came to power in 2018, the relationship between union members and their government employers became increasingly strained. During the pandemic, front-line workers were lauded as heroes while their wages and working conditions worsened.
The Premier has been holding firm on a wage offer for public servants of zero for the first year and one percent for the following three years of a contract, so three percent over four years. Yet over the past four years, the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator shows more than a nine percent increase. If workers accept the government’s three percent offer, they would effectively be taking a six percent pay cut.
CUPE rejects the government’s claim that the province does not have the money to pay its workers. “We need to stop throwing our money at large corporations that refuse to pay their fair share of taxes to fund the public services that have made their fortunes and invest in our people. It’s time to build an economy from the bottom up instead of waiting for the crumbs from the top down” reads a CUPE media statement.
CUPE’s Central Bargaining Team will consist of seven CUPE local presidents from Part I, II and III of the public service who bargain with Treasury Board, one observer from Part IV locals who bargain with provincial Crown corporations, CUPE Maritimes Regional Director Sandy Harding, CUPE New Brunswick President Steve Drost, and CUPE staff.
CUPE bargaining teams:
- Local 1190 – General Labour and Trades
- Local 1418 – Rehabilitation and Therapy and RCPO
- Local 1251 – Institutional Care and Services
- Local 1840 – Provincial Court Stenographers
- Local 1253 – New Brunswick Council of School District Unions
- Local 2745 – Education Support Staff
- Local 1252 – New Brunswick Council of Hospital Unions
- Local 963 – Alcool NB Liquor
- Local 5017 – NBCC
- Local 5026 – CCNB
- Local 1866 – WorkSafe NB
In preparation for the bargaining next week, CUPE held a “bargaining summit” in Fredericton on Friday, August 27 that brought together bargaining teams from the four parts of the provincial public services and guest speakers from across Canada.
Susan O’Donnell writes for the NB Media Co-op.