The municipal workers of CUPE Local 1188, operating in the small university town of Sackville, New Brunswick, are still in awe by the level of community support they received in their recent victory to protect seniority rights.
At the bargaining table, Council and the Town’s new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) had remained steadfast: they demanded the union accept a contract which removed seniority as a consideration when a temporary, part-time or casual employee applied for a full-time position.
“The last labour conflict our local had was about thirty-five years ago, in the 1980s. The Council and CAO must have thought we were weak, ready to accept anything,” said Marcos Salib, CUPE’s servicing representative for the Local. “They wanted to use fear of a lockout/strike situation and our feeling of isolation to their advantage,” he added.
The disconcerting attack had initially shocked and reduced morale amongst members – a few were contemplating signing a two-tier contract. However, the “Seniority Matters” campaign and member education grew internal confidence: members’ fear developed into anger, then indignation turned into resolve.
CUPE NB along with the Regional Action Committees engaged other CUPE locals in the area and gradually reached beyond immediate supporters. Firefighters, bakery workers, nurses, retail workers and other Regional Labour Council partners mobilized in Sackville. Ordinary citizens started to ask more and more questions to the Towns’ councilors as awareness and support grew.
Within six months, from December 2016 to May 2017, the Local had escalated pressure through all the hoops of a campaign: lobbying, leaflets, petitions, strike education, radio ads, lawn signs, public rallies, town hall meetings & more.
“Council thought they could drive a wedge between members as they sweetened the deal to exclude the current workers from the seniority attack,” said Pam Hicks, Secretary of Local 1188.
In the end, the Council withdrew its ultimatum and has ratified a six-year contract with the Union. The deal provides for improved clothing and tool allowances, contains wage increases, wage adjustments for precarious workers – and most importantly – maintains all seniority rights.
“Sackville workers leave us with a great example of how we can successfully apply CUPE’s National Executive Board Bargaining Policy on fighting concessions and two-tier contract provisions to motivate and mobilize the workers,” said Daniel Légère, CUPE NB President. “Because of the new bargaining policy, there now is heightened awareness of the need to bring in the Division early in the process,” he added.
“Local 1188 members understand that they are part of a big movement. Being part of a union comes with many benefits, but also many responsibilities towards our fellow workers – including future workers. Together we build on past victories and make gains for those who will come after us,” concluded Légère.