Defending the Public Interest by Upholding Workers' Rights

Public Sector Workers Reach Tentative Agreement with New Brunswick Government

On November 13, the Canadian Union of Public Employees-New Brunswick (CUPE NB) announced that a tentative agreement has been reached between the eleven union locals on the centralized bargaining team and the provincial government. The eleventh local joined the original ten when the Alcool NB Liquor (ANBL) workers voted strongly in favour of strike action on November 9. Those workers were scheduled to strike November 16, but have reached a tentative agreement with ANBL on non-monetary issues.

The CUPE workers went on strike on October 29 for wages they deem acceptable and essential to solving the recruitment and retention problem facing public services. They were also opposed to the government's demands for concessions from workers in two education locals, to accept the conversion of their defined benefit pension plan into a shared risk plan in which pension benefits can be cut if the plan is declared underfunded. These 22,000 workers include road maintenance and park workers, correctional officers, social workers, court reporters, laundry workers, bus drivers and custodians in schools, education assistants, patient care workers and food and environmental service workers in hospitals.

In its press release, CUPE NB announced that the tentative wage agreement will be submitted to the members of each local later this week. On the issue of the employer's demand for concessions on pensions, both locals have reached a Memorandum of Understanding with the government which will also be submitted to the membership later this week. Voting results are to be announced at a CUPE press conference on Friday, November 19 at 11:00 am.

Meanwhile, workers have returned to work and the government has reopened the schools it had closed as a provocative tactic to try to turn families against striking workers, suddenly imposing e-learning. It had locked out striking education workers, accusing them of making teaching impossible at school. This tactic failed miserably, with parents strongly denouncing that tactic and expressing their support for the striking workers.

In the meantime the union is going forward with its lawsuit against the government with regard to the November 5 emergency order announced by the Minister of Justice and Public Safety that forced health care workers back to work, using the powers under the province's Emergency Measures Act. A state of emergency was declared on September 24 in response to rising COVID-19 cases and the government accused the workers of threatening the health and safety of the people. The lawsuit argues that the order violated the workers' right to freedom of association and that the hefty fines constitute "cruel and unusual punishment," which contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

From the beginning, the workers and people of New Brunswick have been calling for a solution to the public service crisis that defends the public interest by defending workers' rights. They reject the state's use of repression and criminalization of workers which is shown in the large and small actions across the province, including mass demonstrations that were amongst the largest in the province's history.

In a conversation with Workers' Forum, CUPE NB President Steve Drost spoke of the overwhelming support of New Brunswick workers and residents in their fight for their rights:

"It was an amazing experience. It was very difficult for the workers who had to go on strike but as each day progressed more and more of the public got behind the workers. We felt it was quite an attack by the government to try and get the public to be upset with the workers but it seemed to backfire on them. People were able to see though their propaganda and they realized that these workers were simply fighting for their rights. We had a rally on Friday, November 12, with close to 2,000 people at the Legislature. There were parents, students, teachers, other union groups and other professional associations who joined us. The public support and the support of other professions and unions was growing on a daily basis. We felt that we were able to find a compromise that both parties can live with and I am feeling good that our members will feel they were well represented."

This article was published in

November 17, 2021 - No. 108

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