Workers, union leaders, their families and supporters marched in 14 communities across New Brunswick on Saturday in a demonstration of solidarity with front-line workers bargaining for a fair wage. The events were organized by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) New Brunswick, the largest public sector union in the province.
Marches were held in Saint John, Moncton, Fredericton, Edmundston, Saint-Quentin, Campbellton, Bathurst, Tracadie, Perth-Andover, Woodstock, St. Stephen, Sussex, Sackville and Miramichi.
In Fredericton, the NB Media Co-op interviewed some of the approximately 250 marchers, including CUPE members and leaders from Ontario, PEI and the national office.
Gail Wylie, Former civil servant
“I’m just here in support of all the civil servants. I used to be one. And I thought about them often as the COVID was going on. I thought I couldn’t have coped as they’ve done. They’re so creative, and they’re so committed, and I just really appreciate the fact that they kept things going. And especially the health care. I think we should honour the fact that they are taking risks and they’re so talented at being able to adapt.”
Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario
“I’m here from Ontario to show solidarity with our members in New Brunswick. What’s happening here is incredibly inspiring because frontline workers, public sector workers are facing the same challenges. Whether we’re in Ontario and New Brunswick, Alberta, across the country, we’re the folks who got our communities through the pandemic, in incredibly stressful, difficult situations. And now, governments seem to think that somehow, we’re the ones who should have to pay the price for that. And I’m so proud of our members here and the communities here for standing with them and organizing to say, ‘No, we’re not going to stand for that anymore. We’re going to demand better.'”
Abram Lutes, Provincial Coordinator, Common Front for Social Justice
“I’m marching for the Common Front for Social Justice. We support people in poverty, a stronger public sector and looking out for low wage workers, and what CUPE workers are bargaining and fighting for. Yes, it’s for their own wages and their own benefits, but they’re also fighting for a stronger public service for everybody in New Brunswick. We want to support that and see that through.”
Leonard Gallant, President of CUPE PEI
“I came to New Brunswick and the march today to support our brothers and sisters over here. It’s important because fair wages are very important for everybody. So we’re just here to support these folks.”
Charles Fleury, CUPE’s National Secretary-Treasurer
“I’m here today to support our public sector workers and the bargaining teams. We have locals in New Brunswick without a collective agreement since 2017. And this march today is to support all our bargaining teams and also to recognize all the work our public members on the front have been doing during the pandemic, and they continue doing the job. We are 700,000 members across this country in CUPE, and I’m bring greetings from all these members across this country to support the workers in New Brunswick.”
David Coon, MLA for Fredericton South and Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick
“I’m here for two reasons. One, I was invited. Two, I think it’s important to support our public workers or front-line workers. Government needs to respect the front-line workers. Government needs to ensure that they have good working conditions, a decent salary, and feel secure and safe in their in their jobs. And that’s not the way this government interacts with their own workers. And so that’s the way I would treat the workers if I were Premier. We have a government that doesn’t even respect its own citizens. So, if they don’t respect their own citizens, it’s hard to see how they’re going to respect public employees.”
Annie Lebreton, CUPE 1252
“I work with the New Brunswick Council of Hospital Unions. I’m here first to thank the people who worked during the pandemic, and to show that we are without a collective agreement, and that we want fair pay for fair work.”
Mark Hancock, National President of CUPE
“I’m here this morning to support our members and our locals that have been without contracts for, some of them, up to 1,700 days. It’s been a long time coming. We hope we’re coming out of this pandemic, it’s been a long time. All of these folks here are on the front-lines of health care, long term care and municipalities in so many different sectors. Of course, we all rely on folks like these to help get us through that pandemic. We consider them heroes. And unfortunately, what we’ve been seeing at the bargaining table is that there has been no respect that there’s no acknowledgement of the work that they’ve been doing, not just for the last 18 months, but for for decades. And we have a real concern around the offers that have been on the bargaining tables, zeros and even one percents are not real wage gains in this day and age. So we’re here to support our locals and our leaders and our members in trying to attain a fair collective agreement, one that they can vote on, that they feel comfortable, that will help their families that will help their communities. So that’s why we’re here we’re sending the message to the premier of the government.”
Nicole O’Byrne, Green Party candidate for Fredericton
“Why am I marching today? Well, there’s nothing more important than health care. My dad was very ill for a number of years. And it was the nurses and the support workers and social workers and the dieticians and all those people that made that terrible situation tolerable. My mom and I got a real appreciation for how difficult it is for workers to work within the hospitals or the long term care facilities. They need more support, they need more help, they’re undervalued. We need a system that’s operating properly, well resourced, well funded, with employees that have good morale. What we have now is so many cutbacks, so many challenges, that the workers are feeling really hard pressed, and they they’re burning out. And I’m really concerned about that for everyone’s welfare. We need them to be healthy and happy and well regarded and respected. And that’s why I’m here today.”
Sonny Levasseur, CUPE 2745
“I’m a zone delegate for the Oromocto-Fredericton region [education support staff]. I’m here to show my support for CUPE. I want to support all public sector workers, support all front-line workers, that’s basically it.”
Sandy Harding, CUPE Maritimes Regional Director
“I’m here for two reasons really. One is that I don’t think the public service workers in the frontline essential workers, whether they’re unionized or not, have been recognized for the work they’ve done in this province. So that’s one reason: I think they need a thank-you. They’ve held this province together during a pandemic. And the other reason is, I’m a mom of five, who has continued to say that I believe it’s the government’s responsibility to keep my children in this province and not tell them to go out to Alberta to get better wages. And I feel this fight that we’re in now can impact us for generations to come. If we do not do something and invest in our public service here, and our public service workers, we’re continue to lose our children to other provinces, which has an impact. And I’m not willing as a mom to have my children dispersed all over North America because they going to find a better job. I want them in this province. I would love that they work in the public service, and I want to encourage them. So that’s the two reasons.”
This story was updated to add Sackville to the list of communities with marches.
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.