The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the largest public sector union in New Brunswick, will begin province-wide strike voting on September 7. More than 22,000 CUPE members in the province are in a legal strike position, some having been without a collective agreement for almost five years.
CUPE members in 10 locals could begin work stoppages within weeks if they vote to strike. Each union local member can vote yes or no on a strike vote but the CUPE NB executive team has been discussing strike vote coordination for months in meetings with the presidents of the New Brunswick locals. Voting in the healthcare sector and francophone community colleges will begin later in the month.
After years of frustrations at the bargaining table and a fruitless round of negotiations this week, CUPE NB is making good on its 100-day ultimatum to the Higgs government: agree to fair wages or face job action.
CUPE and Treasury Board have been at a central bargaining table since Tuesday this week. Just before noon today (Friday), government negotiators left the table, after refusing to address CUPE’s latest submission made Thursday night.
The government is offering all public sector workers a wage freeze in the first year of the contract, followed by one percent in the subsequent three years. That three-percent offer is well below the rate of inflation that the Bank of Canada has calculated at more than nine percent since 2016.
Over the past week, “no real movement happened on a general economic increase for workers,” said CUPE NB President Steve Drost. “The Premier said bargaining is “give and take,” but all he wants at the table is to take, take and take. He never moved from his initial offer, as the moves he made were coupled with significant concessions demands instead of talking about a general wage increase.”
Less than a week ago, hundreds of CUPE members and their families, friends and supporters marched in 14 communities across New Brunswick. The Fredericton march gathered about 250 people, and the Telegraph Journal reported more than 1,000 attended the march in Saint John.
Steve Drost had a message today for CUPE members going into the Labour Day long weekend: “To all our CUPE front line essential workers please know how important you are to your community and how strong you are when you stand up for fairness and respect. In Solidarity, CUPE NB.”
Susan O’Donnell writes for the NB Media Co-op.