Higgs has 100 Days to settle a fair deal with CUPE members

CUPE NB, representing over 28,000 workers in New Brunswick, held a press conference to announce its ultimatum to NB Premier Blaine Higgs. View the full conference here.

“Starting Sunday, May 30th, Premier Higgs has one hundred (100) days to settle collective agreements for all the CUPE locals who have been waiting long enough for a fair deal,” said CUPE NB President Stephen Drost.

Higgs has until Labour Day in September to fix recruitment and retention issues and bring fair wages to the 21,860 CUPE members in bargaining – over 8,580 of which are in a deadlock and more than 13,280 who are headed for conciliation in the next 50 days.

“If Higgs refuses to act in a tangible manner, once the 100 days are passed, CUPE members will have to mount a province-wide coordinated action,” added Drost.

“This ultimatum is the most responsible way to get this government to act. By September, most residents will already be vaccinated. One hundred days is more than generous when you consider how most workers have been waiting for years and years to get fair deals,” said Drost.

During the press conference, CUPE Local 1840 – representing NB Court Stenographers – also announced it had just filed a request to the NB Labour and Employment Board to recognize a deadlock in bargaining. Government has refused to offer Court Stenographers a fair deal since 2016.

Before Christmas, in the middle of the second COVID-19 wave, Premier Blaine Higgs promised “Zeroes for our Heroes.” All NB public sector workers would be mandated a wage freeze followed by three years of one percent increases. Half a year later, Higgs has not yet altered his collision course with the public sector: “He has not acted in any way to fix the recruitment and retention crisis in major sectors. Higgs is playing a dangerous game of poker, thinking essential workers who fought off COVID-19 will simply fold under pressure, rather than unite and demand respect,” concluded Drost.

 

 

CUPE 1252 Exposes the depth of the Recruitment and Retention Crisis in Healthcare

Fredericton, NB – The NB Council of Hospital Unions (CUPE Local 1252) – representing close to 10,000 healthcare workers in New Brunswick, held a press conference to expose the severity of the recruitment and retention crisis in their field.

CUPE 1252 has knowledge of excessive holes and gaps in all classifications: “We estimate there is a shortage of 200 Licenced Practical Nurses (LPNS) in NB hospitals. There are a hundred (100) vacant paramedic positions, there are gaps in Environmental Services (EVS), medical device reprocessing, maintenance, clerical and phlebotomy, to mention a few,” said Norma Robinson.

Local 1252’s conference came on the heels of an announcement by the NB Nurses Union, who revealed that there is a shortage of approximately 700 nurses provincially.

“Too often, we only hear about one or two classifications, but let’s be clear, there are serious shortages in all classifications,” said Robinson. “At the root of this are low wages and management’s over-reliance on casual labour. Too few full-time positions are posted for the sheer quantity of work to be done,” she added.

The union also noted an alarming trend where Health Networks’ recruitment efforts are under-prioritized in urban centres: “When there are staff shortages, rural hospitals are the first to suffer and the last to receive help,” said Robinson.

“We raised these issues with Premier Higgs and Minister Shephard on several occasions, we’ve asked to be part of the discussions to provide a clear picture of what is truly happening. Sadly, to date, there has been no movement, no discussions, and no invitations to meet from their part,” she added.

CUPE 1252 calls on Premier Higgs, Minister Shephard and the Regional Health Authorities to come forward to begin the discussions for improvement to the healthcare system in NB.  “Healthcare in NB is at a critical state with cracks in the system, if something is not done now healthcare will crumble,” concluded Robinson.

CUPE Local 1252 represents frontline healthcare workers such as paramedics, LPN’s, patient care attendants, support staff working in environmental services, dietary, maintenance & trades, clerical, sterilization, pharmacy staff, phlebotomists and many more.

Deadlock in Education Sector Negotiations

Members of the 2745 Bargaining Team

On May 11, 2021, CUPE Local 2745 held a press conference to announce it had filed a notice of deadlock in negotiations with the NB Labour and Employment Board.  Local 2745 represents close to 4400 educational and clerical support staff in New Brunswick schools and School District offices.

“Our last contract expired back in February 2018. After almost three years of fruitless negotiations, it is clear that the government has led us towards an impasse,” said Theresa McAllister, President of CUPE Local 2745.

“We sent a letter to the NB Labour and Employment Board, and I have absolutely no doubt they will recognize that we are deadlocked until Government really wants to bring fairness to the table,” she added.

Local 2745 is now the fifth CUPE local to file for a deadlock in negotiations (after CUPE 1190, 5017, 1418 and most recently 1251).

In the latest bargaining sessions, we were met by an employer bargaining committee unwilling or unable to provide clarity on the workers’ concerns. “They were unwilling to work towards any middle ground on the most significant issues, and uncompromising in their wage freeze mandate, pension attacks, unfair use of casual work, to name a few,” said Trent Snikkers, national representative for CUPE.

“It’s clear this rigidity in bargaining is demanded from above, from the Premiers’ office. Will Education Minister Cardy intervene to remind the Premier of the importance of the work done by educational assistants, library workers, admin staff, intervention workers and so many others?” asked McAllister.

Like teachers, school workers do not have it easy these days. The uncertainty, the changes, new stresses and a disrupted education cycle have made life more difficult. “Yet we adapted, we continue to do our best as public servants. Why is the government trying to fix a fight with public sector workers, the very people who help our kids succeed in school, is beyond me,” said McAllister.

CUPE Local 2745’s membership includes Educational Assistants, School Administrative Assistant & School Clerks, School Library Workers, District Administrative Support Workers, School Intervention Workers, Speech Therapy Assistants and Student Attendants.

 

Register for Strike Preparation Training Sessions

CUPE members in New Brunswick are all welcome to join in strike preparation sessions, organized by Local 1252, but open to all members of other locals. Register on the forms linked on the sessions by clicking on times below.

Les membres du SCFP au Nouveau-Brunswick sont tous invités à participer aux sessions de préparation à la grève, organisées par la section locale 1252, mais ouvertes à tous les membres des autres sections locales. Inscrivez-vous sur les formulaires liés aux sessions en cliquant sur les horaires de votre choix ci-dessous.

 

May 11 – Tuesday/mardi (English session)

May 12 – Wednesday/mercredi (Bilingual)

Le 13 mai – Jeudi (français)

May 17 – Monday/lundi  (Bilingual)

May 18 – Tuesday (English)

Le 19 mai – mercredi (Francais)

May 25 – Tuesday/mardi (Bilingual)

May 26 – Wednesday (English)

Le 27 mai – jeudi (Francais)

May 1st Declaration

International Workers Day is celebrated around the world every May 1st. The date was proclaimed in 1889 in recognition of workers’ collective action for an 8-hour work day. At this time, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of working-class solidarity and the need to organize have never been greater. Workers are being exploited in all sectors. Decent and safe working conditions are being eroded and inequality in the distribution of wealth is growing by the minute.

The pandemic has proven what we have always known: It is workers who keep our communities going, deliver essential goods and services, and will step up during a crisis and put their lives on the line to protect all citizens. Workers are the backbone of society.

The pandemic has also exposed the naked truth that governments around the world, under pressure from the ruling class, have grossly underfunded the infrastructure necessary to provide for the health and safety of all citizens.

Throughout history, when pushed to the tipping point, workers have united, shown their strength and stood up for social and economic justice.

To all workers, private sector or public sector, unionized or not, we celebrate and pay tribute to the enormous sacrifices you make for the good of all.

NB Social Development “Investments”: Band-Aid Solutions Are Not Enough

In a recent announcement made this week, the Government of New Brunswick claims to have made “Progressive Investments” in the Department of Social Development.

Unfortunately, their claims do not hold water, as they fail to address real problems being experienced by too many citizens. Bruce Fitch celebrated meagre investments in his Department, which amount to little more than Band-Aids on the major issues of childhood poverty, hours of care for seniors in nursing homes and housing.  Until this government introduces progressive tax reforms, their efforts cannot keep up with the growing costs of poverty. More and more New Brunswickers will fall into the poverty trap.

Poverty in NB

This government continues to talk about energizing the private sector to increase economic growth in NB. A recent study released on April 7th of this year by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, clearly illustrated that poverty is costing our province 1.4 billion dollars per year, and a loss of economic growth of 3.71 percent annually. Their new 2.4-million-dollar investment to tackle early childhood poverty will have next to no effect as more people are not keeping up with the cost of living. It does not help that government wants to freeze wages instead of introducing price controls to protect citizens. Higgs’ 5-cent per hour increase to the minimum wage is also insufficient, as it’s only equivalent to one cup of coffee per week.

Housing
The provincial and federal government have an obligation to end poverty. Sadly, GNB’s 10-year plan to invest more in affordable housing also misses the mark significantly. With the hyperinflation of building materials, in some case as high as 300 percent, their investment of 17 million dollars will not go far enough to make a real difference. Rent paid on accommodations in New Brunswick between March 2020 and March 2021 rose 4.8 percent, the largest increase in the country. More families will not be able to afford housing and thus creating significant strain on an already underfunded strategy.

Hours of Care

Minister Fitch announced he would increase by 0.1 hour (or 6 minutes) the daily hands-on care provided to seniors in NB nursing homes this year, and 0.1 more in 2022. This Band-Aid solution goes against the Department’s own seniors’ needs assessment:  in 2005, Social Development produced an internal report demonstrating the need for a minimum of 3.5 hours of daily care for seniors in Nursing Homes. Today, we have an older, more fragile population than in 2005. Experts on senior care and CUPE agree the minimum standard should be 4 hours of daily hands-on care per day. Giving seniors 6 more minutes is like giving 5 cents more to minimum wage workers: It’s not enough. It’s insulting as it dramatically misses the mark.

The human cost and struggles that many people are facing are devastating and not acceptable. If government is serious about caring for its citizens, it needs to implement progressive tax reform to pave the way for real, tangible solutions.

Deadlock in Local 1251 Negotiations: Higgs forcing a strike on essential workers

Moncton Airport Screening, 2021. CUPE Local 1251 are deployed to do COVID-19 screening at the airports and borders of NB.

April 27, 2021 – CUPE Local 1251 held a press conference to announce it had filed a notice of deadlock in negotiations with the NB Labour and Employment Board.  Local 1251 represents approximately 800 front line professional Correctional Officers, Human Service Councillors, Laundry Service and custodial workers working for the province.

“Our members have been without a contract for almost 4 years and government still refuses to bring any fairness to the bargaining talks. Higgs is forcing a strike on essential workers. It’s unbelievable and unethical,” said Chris Curran, President of CUPE Local 1251.

“Even if they protect our borders, clean our hospital’s laundry, sanitize government workplaces and keep our communities safe, this government does not really care if they put their lives on the line every day,” said CUPE National Servicing Representative Mike Davidson.

Over the last several years the Union has been lobbying the Government to fix the retention and recruitment issues in correctional facilities. Many jails are understaffed and under resourced.  The union also demands proper job-posting contract terms. “We have seen regular positions vacant being filled by casual workers in excess of 5 years and longer,” said Chris Curran. “It should not be like this,” he added.

“The root causes of recruitment and retention problems are more than obvious. NB Correctional officers remain among the lowest paid in Canada. Add lack of posting requirements with the exploitation of casuals, and you compound an already dangerous work environment with the revolving door syndrome,” said Davidson.

CUPE 1251 workers have continued to provide critical services to protect New Brunswickers and their families during the pandemic. They have gone over and above working outside their scope of work ensuring our borders and airports are protected with COVID-19 screening. Our work is much more dangerous fighting this pandemic in our workplaces than from behind a podium.

“Meanwhile Higgs had no qualms in putting ministerial ethics aside to push the NB Energy Commission in raising heating oil and gas price on ordinary people to help the Irvings’ profit margins,” said Davidson. “He bends over backwards for the Irvings and does not care about the rising cost of living to the rest of New Brunswickers, including the increased housing, construction costs, food, heating, etc. Yet, most workers are seeing their buying power diminish year after year.,” he added.

“Our members have never stopped working, protecting New Brunswickers through this pandemic and deserve a fair wage to at least keep up with the rising costs. The reality is a large portion of our membership with full time hours, take home less than the $2,000 monthly CERB payment- Higgs wants to continue paying substandard wages to our members!” noted Curran.

“When will this Premier see that fair wages and working conditions are what keeps our communities prosperous?” said Curran. “By neglecting to invest in struggling public services and our member’s who strengthen our local economies, it would definitely help our struggling small businesses in our communities. Higgs is forcing a strike on our members and your services. Heroes don’t deserve zeroes!” he concluded.

Steve Drost Elected President of CUPE NB

This Saturday April 24 2021, Steve Drost has been elected for a 2-year term as provincial president of the New Brunswick Division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE NB). More than 200 delegates, representing CUPE locals from across the province, elected Drost to lead New Brunswick’s largest union. The vote was conducted Saturday afternoon at CUPE NB’s 58th annual convention, which took place virtually, Friday and Saturday.

“I will do my best each and every day for all our members, to make sure we are truly listening and making CUPE NB a grassroots, member driven Division. I am honoured to be your president,” said Drost to delegates. Drost, who has been vice-president of CUPE NB for the last two years, takes the place of President Brien Watson.

“I have been working for over 44 years in the education sector, so I am looking forward for retirement,” said Brien Watson.  “I wish Steve all the best in his new role,” said Watson.

“It’s an honour to follow in the foots steps of Brother Watson, who diligently served his 2-year term as Division President. He picked up the “Bargaining Forward” campaign, and took head-on the enormous curveball that is COVID-19,” said Drost.

Sharon Teare, herself a Personal Care worker at St John & St Stephen Home in Saint John and President of the NB Council of Nursing Home Unions, has been elected for a one-year term as  CUPE NB’s First Vice-President. Drost and Teare will join Kim Copp on the CUPE NB inner executive. Copp is currently the CUPE NB Secretary Treasurer and works as an LPN at the Forestdale Home in Riverside Albert.

“With those two great leaders by my side, we have what it takes to mount the challenge against Blaine Higgs’s “Zeros for our Heroes” wage freeze plans and his anti-worker politics,” said Drost.

Drost has been president of CUPE Local 1418, Rehabilitation and Therapy since 2013. He began his career as a practising social worker in 1988. At present he is a Clinical 3 Social Worker and has been practising front line Social Work in Child Welfare his entire career.

“Brother Drost is a dedicated activist. I’m confident our Division and the labour movement will grow even stronger under his leadership,” said Brien Watson.

Deadlock in Negotiations: Local 1418 Raises the Alarm on Staff Shortages

Steve Drost, Child protection worker and President of CUPE Local 1418

Fredericton – Today, CUPE Local 1418 held a press conference to inform the public that contract talks with the NB government have reached an impasse.

The local represents over 1100 front-line professionals who work with the most vulnerable members of our society. The union local represents Human Resource Development Officers, Social Workers, Housing Program Officers, Probation Officers, Correctional Program Officers, Human Rights Officers and more.

“There has been too little progress in bargaining talks since the collective agreement expired in August 2017. Despite the added COVID-19 related workload burdens, the government still refuses to negotiate a timely and fair deal,” said Steve Drost, president of CUPE Local 1418. “They left workers with no choice, a deadlock declaration had to be filed,” he added.

With the pandemic, CUPE 1418’s members who work daily with children, families and seniors saw their workload increase dramatically. Many workers were themselves redeployed in private long-term care facilities where the virus was present.

During the conference, Steve Drost raised the alarm on the recruitment and retention crisis in the public sector. “We are critically understaffed. Our members are under resourced and have not had a fair wage increase in over 12 years,” said Drost. “Like too many other New Brunswickers, we have fallen way behind the cost of living and this has to stop,” he added.

CUPE Local 1418 notes that its members are exhausted emotionally and physically, burning out and too many are leaving the public sector.  “Blaine Higgs’s public sector wage freeze will aggravate the crisis. We are still in disbelief, to see that other PC MLAs have not pushed back against this insulting “thank you” to those who put their lives on the line for our communities,” he added.

“Higgs has a responsibility to fix this and back down from his austerity plan. Our provincial social safety net is already in tatters; it’s time to mend it,” said Drost.

The union hopes government will agree to settle the dispute through binding arbitration a third-party resolution mechanism inscribed in section 72 of the Public Service Labour Relations Act. After a deadlock has been declared, the Government can still do the following:

  1. a) Abandon the wage freeze mandate and return to the bargaining table with a fair deal for workers;
  2. b) Settle the dispute through binding arbitration; or
  3. c) Refuse option a) and b) to force the workers in an unnecessary lockout/strike scenario.