June 25, 2021 - No. 61
New Brunswick Workers Seek Solution to Crisis
in Recruitment and Retention
Workers Give Government 100 Days to Negotiate Collective Agreements with Wages Acceptable to Themselves
• Standing Up to Government's Abuse of Power
- Interview, Steve Drost
New Brunswick Workers Seek Solution to Crisis in Recruitment and Retention
At a press conference held on May 28, the Canadian Union of Public
Employees (CUPE) New Brunswick put the provincial government on notice
that it had 100 days to settle collective agreements with many CUPE
locals or face job action by the workers. Nearly 30 have now passed.
Close to 22,000 of the 28,000 CUPE New Brunswick members are still
trying to negotiate labour contracts with wages workers deem
8,580 workers negotiations are deadlocked and more than 13,280 are
headed for conciliation in the next two months. The union is giving
Premier Blaine Higgs until Labour Day in September to meet the workers'
demands to fix recruitment and retention issues and offer wages
that workers find acceptable.
the Premier and his cabinet refuse to act in a reasonable and
responsible way, once these 100 days have passed, CUPE members will
have to mount a province-wide coordinated action. The Premier is
forcing job action on the citizens of New Brunswick," said CUPE New
Brunswick President Steve Drost. "This ultimatum, as far as we are
concerned, is the most responsible way to get this government to act,"
Drost added. "By September, most residents will already be vaccinated.
A hundred days is more than generous, considering that most of these
workers have been waiting up to four years to get a contract."
To add insult to injury, last year, on December 11, the Higgs
government announced that they were going to give all public sector
workers a zero increase for the year that they worked through the
pandemic. Drost made the point that the provincial government should
not make the mistake of thinking that essential workers who went all
fight COVID-19 for the people of New Brunswick will not unite and
defend their rights and dignity through coordinated job actions.
Workers' Forum is posting below an interview with Steve Drost conducted a few days before the press conference.
Rally at Sackville
Hospital, February 16, 2020, against closing of Emergency Room
Steve Drost is the President of
the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) New Brunswick. He was
elected on April 24, 2021 at the union's annual Convention.
Workers' Forum: How many workers does CUPE New Brunswick represent and what type of jobs do they do?
Steve Drost: We represent 28,000 workers in over 100
different classifications. We have members in pretty well every sector
and every community in New Brunswick. We are in the hospitals, schools,
social services, communications, transportation, nursing homes,
long-term care and more. We represent a wide variety of public
WF: What are the main concerns of CUPE New Brunswick at this time?
SD: I and many of the other leaders of CUPE in New
Brunswick see that public sector unions and public services are under
attack by the current government. This has been going on for many years
with the austerity programs that governments continuously implement. We
have serious concerns because it is not only the 28,000
members of CUPE New Brunswick that are under attack but all public
sector workers in the province. At CUPE, there are currently five
provincial locals, large groups within CUPE New Brunswick, that have
reached deadlocks in their negotiations with the province, and which
are now in a legal position to take strike votes. There are several
CUPE Locals getting very close to an impasse. All groups have been
trying to negotiate a fair collective agreement, some for two years,
others for up to four years. Last year on December 11 the provincial
government announced that they were going to give us all a zero
increase for the year that we worked through the pandemic. We see that
an insult and certainly disrespectful.
prior to the pandemic we were facing a serious recruitment and
retention crisis in our nursing homes, in the hospitals, in our
schools, including psychologists and other support services in the
schools. We are experiencing a recruitment and retention crisis with
social workers doing Child Protection and services to seniors. CUPE New
Brunswick is one of six major unions in New Brunswick. All the other
provincial unions are facing the same problems; a government that won't
negotiate fairly, a government that we feel is being abusive. We
consider this an abuse of power and control. We have had over 12 years
without fair wage increases that keep up with the cost of living. I
am talking here about 95 per cent of the public sector workers. Very
few have been able to keep up with the cost of living.
The government is basically attacking public sector unions. We see
this is as part of a much bigger plan. We know that over the years they
have been able to reduce the size, strength and power of private sector
unions and now they are coming after the public sector unions. We have
serious concerns about this because we know the negative
impacts that would have on our communities and on our local economies.
More importantly, citizens deserve good quality public services. It has
reached the point where we have decided that we need to fight back, and
not just for our jobs and wages. We need to take action to protect
public services. We want governments to invest in public
services and not try to dismantle them and sell them off to their
Government continues to privatize different bits and pieces of
public services. For example, New Brunswick once had a Crown
Corporation called the New Brunswick Investment Management Corporation
that managed the public sector workers' pensions. This has been
converted into a private agency, a non-profit group called Vestcor.
This so-called not-for-profit agency is now managing many public sector
workers' pensions. Government also wants to privatize different pieces
of the health care system and different pieces of the education system.
have de-invested in public services with their austerity agendas for
more than two decades. We were facing serious recruitment and retention
issues before the pandemic. COVID-19 has really shown where we have
serious gaps in our public services and just how fragile the citizens'
social safety net really is. For example, CUPE Local 1252,
the New Brunswick Council of Hospital Unions, issued a press release
recently in which they identified hundreds of vacant positions that are
not being filled. I know the same thing is happening with the New
Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions (NBCNHU) which is also part of CUPE New
Brunswick. The NBCNHU have 300 to 400 vacant positions
that are not being filled. There are many more examples like that. This
is an attack on public services and their current lack of fair
collective bargaining is a blatant attack on public sector workers.
We feel it is necessary to take a strong position because, at the end
of the day, it is about social and economic justice. The economic
inequality is worse now than it has been as far back as I can remember,
and I have been a practicing frontline social worker for 33 1/2 years.
This inequality has just blown up during the pandemic.
We believe that this inequality has a lot to do with the choices
that are being made by the right-wing ideologues that are in power in
governments. They continue to say that they want to invest in the
private sector. They do not want to invest in public services and
certainly do not want to treat public service workers fairly and even
a wage to keep up with the cost of living. They are offering a zero
increase to the workers who have put their lives on the line. It was
the frontline essential workers, be it private sector or public
sector, unionized or non-unionized, that helped this province through
the pandemic. For the Premier to turn around and announce that his
going to give all public sector workers a zero wage increase for 2021
is an insult. So many of these public sector workers have been
negotiating for three to four years, which is ridiculous, and the
government has been delaying and delaying, never coming to the table
prepared to really negotiate. So what the government is expecting a lot
of these groups
to do is accept three years of one per cent increases, from 2018 to
2020, and then for this year, zero. That is where we see abuse of
power. It is unacceptable.
CUPE New Brunswick represents 28,000 workers and there are almost
20,000 of them without a contract at the moment. This is the case for a
lot of other public sector workers in the province as well.
WF: What is the work of CUPE New Brunswick at this time to change the situation in favour of the people?
SD: The public are starting to realize how important
public services and public sector workers are, because workers are
putting their lives on the line to help the province get through the
pandemic. We don't take our money and hide it offshore. We spend it in
our local economies. We are the backbone of the local
We are working very closely with all our leaders at the table, and
our leaders who are on the CUPE NB Executive. We are talking with other
public sector unions and community allies. Our members are fed up and
we are listening to them and working with them to do what is right. We
are looking at what types of job actions may be
necessary. We are hopeful that with many groups in a strike position,
our growing mobilization of members and community support, the
government will sit down, stop being disingenuous and start negotiating
fairly. We are working on a campaign right now with external messaging
for the public and internal messaging for our members. This is a
continuation of our Bargaining Forward campaign that our workers
requested and have embraced.
(To access articles individually click on the black headline.)
ISSUES | HOME