In case it’s not clear, the NB Media Co-op supports the nearly 22,000 CUPE front-line workers without a contract, many of whom are currently striking for decent wages. The Irving media does not.
Should we expect the newspapers owned by J.D. Irving Ltd. to support striking workers? The simple answer is no.
Since CUPE NB began its 100-day campaign for fair wages in May, the editorial board of the Telegraph-Journal has been bombarding readers with anti-CUPE rants in a brazen attempt to sway public opinion against school bus drivers, educational support staff, custodians, mechanics, healthcare workers, transportation and infrastructure workers, and community college workers.
A week ago, after 10 different CUPE NB locals voted overwhelmingly (83-98 per cent) in favour of strike action, the Telegraph-Journal titled its editorial: “CUPE strike must not go ahead,” claiming a strike would be “irresponsible and out of touch.”
A generous reading of the news coverage and editorials by the Telegraph-Journal, Times & Transcript and The Daily Gleaner would say that their editorial boards have a broken thermometer, unable to take an accurate temperature of workers’ situations and sympathies. However, Irving’s Brunswick News corporation has always had a vested interest in breaking our collective thermometer to prevent us from seeing what is actually happening.
The former Brunswick News editor and current pundit Norbert Cunningham told us in his Friday, Oct. 29 Telegraph-Journal column that students and parents are suffering the most from CUPE’s strike. He claimed CUPE is unlikely to get any public sympathy. He was wrong.
Across the province that Friday, many parents woke up surprised that school was cancelled. They had to arrange child care like they would on any snow day, but most of the public chatter on the street and on social media did not blame CUPE for their inconveniences. Rather it expressed understanding, often followed by questions such as “where’s the nearest picket line?” and “is there a strike fund? I’d like to donate.”
No matter how many times they try to peddle their anti-CUPE message, no editor or pundit for the Irving press can convince New Brunswickers that the person driving our kids to school, cleaning our public places or providing care in our hospitals is undeserving of a wage increase to pay their bills.
The government of New Brunswick prefers to keep workers’ wages the lowest in the country in favour of spending public money on corporate handouts. The government also spent money on a full page ad in Irving newspapers and L’Acadie Nouvelle telling us that CUPE workers do not deserve what they are asking.
A popular tweet by Aditya Rao pointed out that Premier Higgs is saying there is not enough money to pay workers while it gives away $100 million in subsidies to six pulp and paper mills, including J.D. Irving’s mill in Saint John, lets J.D. Irving and other forestry companies off the hook for $200 million in timber royalties that should have been paid to the province, gives a half a million property tax discount to Irving’s headquarters in Saint John, and spends $250,000 on a yacht club.
New Brunswick is home to not one but two billionaire Irvings, two men made super rich off the backs of workers and by not paying their fair share of taxes.
New Brunswick’s Premier Blaine Higgs made a career out of making Irving Oil rich. He was an executive for the company during a long strike at the Irving Oil Refinery from 1994 to 1996.
Today, Premier Higgs clearly forgets who he is working for, as he celebrates surpluses and rejects federal funding to supplement health care wages and transportation infrastructure during a pandemic.
When New Brunswick runs a surplus of $408.5 million in the middle of a pandemic, we should question the government’s priorities.
And when an Irving-owned media outlet tells us to not support striking workers, we should remember that Irving fired 11 writers and editors with The Daily Gleaner without notice in 1977. The workers believed they were fired when management learned of their plans to unionize.
The Irving empire with tentacles in not only media but also energy, forestry, manufacturing, shipbuilding and transportation is in need of serious public scrutiny and investigative journalism, especially during times of labour unrest. Without that needed oversight, Brunswick News instead gives us simplistic accounts of government employers as heroes and front-line workers as villains. In all their CUPE NB strike stories, the “why” in the 5 Ws of journalism is missing.
So, why are CUPE workers striking? The union originally requested a 20 per cent raise over four years: the price of a bag of apples. The Higgs government counter-offered an 8.5 per cent wage increase over five years. With inflation at about 4.4 per cent, the Higgs government is actually offering a wage cut for one of the country’s lowest paid public sector workforces.
A last-minute return to the bargaining table saw CUPE reduce its ask by 8 per cent and the government increase its offer by only 2.25 per cent. CUPE NB President Steve Drost called the last government offer “absurd” and we agree.
As the strike goes on, we can expect more editorials from the Irving newspapers telling us that workers should not be greedy during a pandemic when they should feel lucky to have a job. They will tell us that now is not the time to strike. But, if not now, then when?
Many front-line workers have been waiting more than five years for a wage increase. The price of housing, food, medicine and other necessities has increased much more than their wages.
Since when did our expectations fall so low that we accept that any worker, unionized or not, must have more than one job to make ends meet? Or that they should leave the province for better wages elsewhere?
The Higgs government walked away from the last bargaining round, leaving the workers with no other choice but to strike. Then on October 31, Higgs locked out 3,000 workers, including school bus drivers, custodians, library assistants and educational assistants. Today, the premier made moves to more quickly pass anti-worker back-to-work legislation by cancelling the throne speech. He has also suggested using a cabinet order under the COVID state of emergency to end the strike.
As expected, Higgs is blaming striking workers for jeopardizing our healthcare system, and Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Dominic Cardy is telling us that CUPE has ruined Halloween for our children. And, also as expected, the Telegraph Journal and other Irving-owned newspapers are parroting the same tune.
Today’s coverage in the Irving newspapers includes headlines like “Premier urges CUPE to accept offer and end strike” and “Strike means longer wait times: health networks.” Again, CUPE is painted as the villain harming our access to health care when it is Premier Higgs that has the power to end this strike by offering a wage increase that is acceptable to our front-line workers.
Contrary to what the Irving media tells us, we should not be demanding less for our front-line workers who are working even harder through a pandemic, we all should be demanding more.
The NB Media Co-op will continue to support CUPE’s fight for social and economic justice and publish stories from the perspectives of the workers fighting for a fair wage. See you on the picket line.
We corrected an error in an earlier version of this article: New Brunswick’s surplus for 2020-2021 is 408.5 million. The correction was made on Nov. 1, 2021 at 6:52pm.
Read the NB Media Co-op’s coverage of the CUPE strike here.
Read about the events leading up to the strike here.