Blaine Higgs is using public money (our taxes) to attack his own workers.
On September 10, our Premier dipped his hands into government coffers to take out the first two pages of advertising in every daily newspaper in the province: the Times & Transcript, the Telegraph-Journal, The Daily Gleaner and L’Acadie Nouvelle. Higgs used thousands of dollars of public money, which is normally used to fund services to the public, to pay for this advertising, and why?
Firstly, the ad clearly tries to discredit the legitimate demands of the 22,000 workers of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in New Brunswick who have been without a contract for years. The ad sends the same message to the thousands of other public sector workers (nurses, provincial government employees, etc.) who are also currently in negotiations.
Secondly, the ad is a divisive tactic aimed at pitting public sector workers against private sector workers. His argument is that private sector workers don’t have the same wages and benefits as public sector workers, so they should consider themselves lucky for what they get.
Instead of accusing unionized public sector workers of having too much, shouldn’t he be asking why private sector workers have less? Why do thousands of private sector workers have low wages for the most part, no paid sick days, minimal paid vacation, almost no pension funds, little dental or drug coverage? Shouldn’t Higgs be pulling all-nighters to figure out how to improve the lives of these workers and their families instead of trying to deride public sector workers for asking for decent wages and working conditions?
Thirdly, the ad is a clear attempt to build public resentment against workers by asking: How are workers’ demands fair to all New Brunswickers?
The actions of our Premier in negotiating with all public sector workers, but particularly with CUPE workers, raises fundamental questions.
Our premier now considers workers, particularly those in the public sector, who have negotiated over the years for a decent wage, fringe benefits such as paid sick leave, dental or vision coverage, drug coverage, paid vacations or pension funds, to be fat cats. One would have to wonder if his vision is that everyone should have the most basic of private sector standards as a basis for comparison.
Higgs seems to forget that it takes a decent salary for a worker and his family to live decently, among other things, to be able to have a good home, to eat adequately, to feel safe, etc.
He seems to forget that dental and vision insurance is a very important financial contribution for hundreds of dentists and optometrists throughout the province.
He seems to forget that drug coverage allows workers to continue working, allows their families to afford necessary medications, and also supports pharmacies.
He seems to forget that paid sick leave prevents workers from using the public health service and protects the public from the spread of disease.
He seems to forget that paid vacation strengthens the tourism sector, including the thousands of small tourism businesses, and contributes to our provincial economy.
He seems to forget that adequate pension funds allow workers after years of service to retire with dignity and not become a tax burden on the federal government.
Our premier seems to have forgotten that these thousands of workers make our government work day in and day out, deliver essential public services and make our economy work. He seems to forget that you can’t build a healthy economy on the backs of thousands of low-wage workers.
This advertisement by Higgs, against his own employees who have been on the front line of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic for more than 18 months, is simply unacceptable.
Jean-Claude Basque is an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op and a long-time labour and social justice advocate.