Two years ago today: Massive CUPE strike rally at the NB Legislature

by NB Media Co-opNovember 2, 2023

Two years ago today, on the fifth day of the CUPE strike in New Brunswick, workers and allies from across the province assembled in front of the New Brunswick Legislature.

In the introduction to the book, Bargaining Forward: The story of the 2021 CUPE strike in New Brunswick, labour historian David Frank writes:

It was the biggest strike in Canada that year. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in early November 2021, thousands of people marched through the streets of Fredericton. Stopping traffic, waving banners, sounding noisemakers, and chanting slogans, they made up one of the largest and most high-spirited demonstrations ever to take place in the New Brunswick capital.

When they reached the provincial legislature grounds, the crowd easily exceeded 5,000 people. Surrounding streets were blocked off for several hours as they cheered speakers, exchanged news about the progress of their strike, and welcomed supporters and members from other unions. In communities around the province, pickets walked up and down the sidewalks at major intersections and in front of shopping malls, holding up signs and waving to passing drivers who honked their approval.

The strike by 22,000 workers, members of ten province-wide locals of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), lasted sixteen days, but these events were in the making for months, even years.

CUPE NB President Steve Drost, fist raised, outside the New Brunswick Legislature on November 2, 2021. Photo: Cole Burston


The Bargaining Forward book was written by two NB Media Co-op journalists: Susan O’Donnell and David Gordon Koch. O’Donnell was part of the crowd at the Legislature that day in 2021 and she vividly recalls the mood and excitement. “It was electric. People were playing music, dancing, and singing and of course, waving the big yellow fists and fuschia CUPE flags. The sun was out, it was a beautiful day, and everyone was smiling and excited. The camaraderie and solidarity was powerful. There was a strong shared feeling that CUPE was going to win this one.”

One of the book chapters is devoted to that rally two years ago at the Legislature. A number of CUPE members are quoted, along with CUPE NB President Steve Drost:

Standing on the steps of the legislature holding a microphone, Steve Drost kicked off the rally with the kind of land acknowledgement the Attorney General had recently banned among civil servants. As the crowd cheered, he declared: “I give thanks and I recognize that we are on the unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Mi’kmaq, the Maliseet and the Passamaquoddy.

“I just want to tell you how proud I am to be a member of CUPE NB today,” he continued. “Your leaders have heard you loud and clear. For too many years you have been attacked. For too many years they have not paid you your worth. And you have given us a very strong message. You know your value. You know your worth. And we’re here to stand with you.

Bargaining Forward: The story of the 2021 CUPE strike in New Brunswick was launched at the Delta Beauséjour hotel in Moncton on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. Photo: CUPE

The NB Media Co-op covered the lead up to the strike and the strike itself extensively. After 16 days, the strike ended with a win for CUPE members, and afterwards, the union invited the NB Media Co-op to write a book to capture the story. Under the guidance of David Frank, the book tells the story in 10 chapters and dozens of photos, with the first chapter starting more than four years before the strike when a fateful decision was made at a CUPE convention.

CUPE NB President Steve Drost and CUPE Regional Director Sandy Harding write in a concluding chapter:

In 2021, workers fought and won. To onlookers, our province-wide strike might have seemed like a spontaneous event, or something planned just a few months ahead. In fact, it took us more than three-and-a-half years of hard work and planning with the Bargaining Forward campaign. Our victory was not an easy one, but it was well earned. CUPE’s 2021 strike was one of the largest successful acts of resistance in New Brunswick’s recent history. We hope it can serve as an inspiring example for working people facing hostile and powerful adversaries.

The book was launched in Moncton in January this year. Copies are available to purchase from CUPE at this link.

Bargaining education session for CUPE Members

📣Education session for CUPE Members! /// Sessions de formations pour les membres du SCFP ! 📣
Join us for the education session ‘BARG – Strategic Planning for Bargaining’ on November 16th, 9 am – 4 pm at the Fredericton Inn.
Learn to:
🔍 Analyze factors affecting bargaining.
🎯 Set effective negotiation goals.
📋 Prepare a solid work plan.
Joignez-vous à nous pour la formation “NÉGO – Planification stratégique pour la négociation” ce 16 novembre, de 9 h à 16 h, à l’hôtel Fredericton Inn.
Apprenez à :
🔍 Analyser les facteurs influençant la négociation.
🎯 Fixer des objectifs de négociation efficaces.
📋 Préparer un plan de travail solide.
Partagez avec vos collègues !

CUPE Local 486 Membership Ratify Tentative Agreement

Saint John, NB – October 10, 2023 — On Monday, the members of CUPE Local 486 voted in favour of ratifying the tentative agreement reached on October 7th. With this crucial step taken by our members, the onus now rests on the Saint John City Council and Saint John Board of Police Commissioners to convene and approve their side of the new collective agreement on October 10. This approval will effectively end the strike that began on September 12, 2023.

“This strike was needlessly prolonged by the City, but today we can finally announce that we have a mutually acceptable agreement,” stated Brittany Doyle, President of CUPE Local 486. “I wish to thank the residents of Saint John, our fellow union locals, and all our supporters for their unwavering solidarity. The deal we have today would not have been possible without their support,” added Doyle.

Throughout the course of this strike, the City’s actions and behaviour have often been at odds with fair labour practices and respect for those involved.  “The City will have to mend fences with its staff. Their actions and aggressive communications have left many with a bitter taste,” said Doyle.

CUPE Local 486 believes councillors Brent Harris and Joanna Killen should be immediately reinstated to their positions with full rights and privileges. “The Mayor and Council must issue a public apology for their unjust treatment of those two who simply took the time to understand their employees’ issues, a sign of good leadership and integrity, unfortunately, that is not common right now with our present mayor and the majority of council,” concluded Michael Davidson, CUPE Servicing Representative.

City’s Attempt to Deem Local 486’s Strike Illegal Fails

The City of Saint John’s attempt to have a judge deem Local 486’s strike and picketing activities illegal has failed. On September 27, the court of Kings Bench did not rule there were any illegal strike activities.

Both parties’ legal counsels have agreed to a “consent order” that acknowledges the workers’ charter-protected right to engage in a meaningful strike and picketing.

Accordingly, the judge did not rule that there were any illegal activities and Local 486 has made it clear to the City that it demands the City to retract its libelous statements from all online publications and issue a formal apology to both residents and workers. “Let us be clear, from day one, this strike has been legal, and we have respected all orders from the police,” emphasized Brittany Doyle, President of Local 486.

The mutually agreed-upon consent order will remain in force until Tuesday, October 3rd, providing space for further negotiations. Brittany Doyle added, “We are very close to reaching an agreement. Unfortunately, instead of finalizing a contract, the City is attempting to again mislead the public and take away worker’s right to strike. We are pleased the court did not take away our workers’ right to strike. The City should come to the table and finalize a fair deal instead of needlessly continuing to disrupt city services and keep us out on the street.”

This recent turn of events confirms Local 486’s claims that the City has been diverting resources away from fair negotiations and trying to use other avenues to suppress the workers, rather than genuinely addressing their concerns at the bargaining table.

Local 486 remains committed to negotiating a fair and equitable agreement and calls upon the City to prioritize the needs of its workers and residents, working together to build a stronger Saint John.

Nursing Home Workers File for Conciliation in Negotiations with Government

During Friday’s negotiation session, the government presented its latest wage offer to the New Brunswick Council of Nursing Home Unions (NBCNHU), which represents nearly 4,600 workers in 51 nursing homes across New Brunswick.

Sharon Teare, President of the NBCNHU, expressed disappointment, stating, “This offer falls far short of meeting the pressing needs of nursing home workers who provide essential care for our seniors.”

Because of the significant gap between the two parties on monetary issues, the NBCNHU has officially filed for conciliation. “The provincial government has been out of touch with the urgent realities faced by nursing home workers, who struggle to meet basic needs like food and shelter,” added Teare.

Teare further explained, “The government’s proposed wage package equates to a mere $2.76 per hour for our lowest-paid workers after 5 years. This offer worsens the crisis in our sector, deepening disparities between worker needs and the rising cost of living.”

To provide context, inflation rates in New Brunswick have been significant: 2022 (7.26%), and 2023 (4% as of August), with optimist forecasts suggesting inflation will be near 2.33% for 2024, and 2% for 2025 and 2026. The compounded inflation rate since 2022 will be near 18.7%.

Meanwhile, the government’s latest wage offer remains below inflation for every year of the contract, with increases of 4% for 2022, 3% for 2023, 2% for 2024, 2% for 2025, 2% for 2026, which compounds to a total of 13.68%, a difference of 5% below inflation.

Teare emphasized, “Workers need real wage increases, not a 5% wage cut, to enhance care and address staff shortages. We urge Labour Minister Arlene Dunn to promptly appoint a conciliator for this critical matter. Workers have waited long enough for a fair deal, and the crisis in our system requires immediate attention,” concluded Teare.

Kill a Worker, Go to Jail

CUPE NB commends the recent legal decision to hold negligent employers accountable for their actions. The sentencing of Jason King to three years in prison for criminal negligence resulting in the tragic death of Michael Henderson sends a clear message that workplace safety cannot be compromised.

This ruling is a significant step towards ensuring proper protection for workers and upholding their rights. Justice Thomas Christie emphasized the importance of deterrence and denunciation in his decision, emphasizing that criminal acts in the workplace will not go unpunished. We believe that such consequences for employers who neglect their responsibilities are long overdue.

We stand with the family of Michael Henderson and admire their courage throughout this challenging process. We also want to acknowledge the support from various labour unions in advocating for safer workplaces. As we move forward, we hope this case sets a precedent for companies to prioritize health and safety, recognizing that the well-being of workers is paramount.

“Workers have the legal right to safety at work and to return home to their family after their shift is finished. Employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe work environment for their workers. Worker’s safety must be the highest law,” said Stephen Drost, President of CUPE NB.

This decision reinforces the obligation of employers to adhere to workplace safety standards, ensuring that tragedies like this one never happen again. Springhill Construction Ltd. has been charged alongside Jason King, and the company’s trial is scheduled for January 8, 2024. We look forward to the upcoming trial and hope that justice will be served.

It is hoped that the judge presiding over the matter will recognize that companies also have a responsibility to their employees and supervisors, and they cannot place all the blame on subordinates when health and safety protocols are not followed in the workplace.

Saint John City Workers Hit Picket Lines Today

Saint John, NB – CUPE Local 486, representing over 133 City of Saint John inside workers, have begun their strike this morning. Picket lines have been set up in various locations in the City.

“The City of Saint John has refused to come back to the bargaining table with a fair wage offer. They are forcing a strike because they refuse to honour their own Wage Escalation Policy for City workers,” said Brittany Doyle, President of CUPE Local 486.

The City’s intent is to enforce a contract that falls below the cost of living.

“I hope the City reconsiders their position so that they bring a fair deal and avoid unnecessary strike and service interruptions.  All we ask for is a reasonable wage package that acknowledges the cost-of-living issues we are facing as workers,” concluded Doyle.

The members of CUPE Local 486 work in clerical, administrative, support, IT, and technical roles, encompassing various municipal services including Dispatch Services for Police, Fire and 911, Court Services, Recreation, Customer Services, By-Law Enforcement, Financial Services, Permits, and many more.

Saint John City Workers Overwhelmingly Approve Strike Action

CUPE Local 486, representing close to 140 City of Saint John held a press conference today to announce a significant development in their ongoing negotiations with the City. Members have voted overwhelmingly in favor of strike action, with 94% in favor.

“Back in December 2021, our previous contract expired. Following almost two years of unproductive negotiations, management has brought us to an impasse,” stated Brittany Doyle, President of CUPE Local 486.

“Despite our sincere efforts to reach an agreement at the bargaining table, the City is intent on enforcing a contract that falls below the cost of living and violates the City’s own Wage Escalation Policy. This essentially amounts to a wage reduction for us,” she added. “Management’s stance lacks reason. We are simply advocating for fairness; asking for a cost-of-living adjustment is not an unreasonable request,” voiced Doyle.

While the City of Saint John is experiencing growth in both population and revenue, municipal services have yet to catch up. “Despite a 15% increase in tax base the last two years that has added a staggering $123 million increase in tax base revenue, the City also has hidden $37.5 million in a slush fund. The City cannot justify why it will not honor its commitment to its own Wage Escalation Policy to “use the three-year rolling average of the assessment-based growth in negotiations for fair, predictable and affordable wage increases. The City is now reneging on their own Policy for this group of City workers, after voluntarily sharing it with others” expressed Michael Davidson, CUPE Servicing Representative.  “The City is unreasonably forcing this group of workers to take a strike vote to get the City to honor their own policy” he continued.

“During the City’s years of financial crisis, we played our part in contributing to cost reductions, particularly in pension conversions, wages restraints, and reduced services, we were an integral part of the sustainability plan” noted Doyle. Management possesses the resources to offer just wages to workers. “The City is now reneging on their promise and cannot be trusted, we don’t know why they will not honor their own policy” added Doyle, “We don’t know why the City is forcing a needless strike on the Citizens and businesses in Saint John”.

“We hope the City comes to their senses and negotiates a fair and reasonable wage package that reflects a balance between wage escalation and cost of living and avoids an unnecessary strike” concluded Doyle.

The members of CUPE Local 486 work in clerical, administrative, support, IT, and technical roles, encompassing various municipal services including Police, Fire and 911 Dispatch, Court Services, Recreation, Customer Services, By-Law Enforcement, Financial Services, Permits, and many more.

MLA Salaries – Membership Memo #3

Higgs gives himself huge raises but wants to impose below-inflation “wage mandates” on workers

Our provincial government has a history of trying to set wage “mandates” for all public sector workers. They want to impose this on all classifications, regardless of how workers get paid per hour. Lower-paid workers lose out every time when mandates are imposed, as they follow percentages, not flat rates.

The percentage widens the wage gap between classifications by giving larger increases to those who already earn more. To top it all, the recent wage mandates almost never address inflation, meaning workers lose real wages if they accept them.

Current bargaining: Many CUPE locals/councils have received wage offers from the government. These are 5-year deals with shameful “increases” (below inflation) of 2% for the first year, then 1%, 1%, 1%, and 1% for the other years. That is only 6% over 5 years. Inflation for 2022 alone was 7.6%! This government is demanding you take a real pay cut.

In 2022, this government gave itself an immediate 15% raise. In 2023, Higgs legislated another raise for himself and MLAs: between 9% and 13%, which comes into effect in November 2024.

The Premier raised his own salary…by 15% in 2022, and by 13% in 2024. He is saying that all workers should respect the proposed 5-year “wage mandate,” but when it comes to his own salary, Higgs does not accept his own mandate.

If we take politicians’ salaries and turn them into hourly rates for a 40-hour work week, in dollar amounts the Premier received a $21.70 per hour total increase for 2021-2023. Premier Higgs will have seen his salary go from $152,150 to $186,256. (32 000$ salary increase, equivalent to $21.70/h increase).

Cabinet members with a department portfolio are getting a raise of $15.90 per hour, $14.35 per hour for other Cabinet members, and $3.92 per hour for MLAs.

The government accepted these raises for politicians by saying that they needed to compensate for the “high inflation which has eroded their salaries”.

Let’s not forget how provincial judges also received the equivalent of a flat rate increase of $7.25 per hour for 2023, on top of raises for the last three years. This was also done “to fight off inflation”.

Why should CUPE workers, who in some cases would only need a $4-$6 per hour raise to get wages above inflation, not get the same fair treatment?

Celebrating Labour Day: Together for Fairness, Prosperity, and Strong Communities

Dear CUPE Members and Fellow Citizens of New Brunswick,

Happy Labour Day! On this special day, as we take a moment to celebrate the achievements of workers and the significant contributions they have made to our great province, we also come together with a renewed spirit of unity and hope for a brighter future.

Labour Day is more than just a day off; it’s a tribute to the resilience, dedication, and hard work that each one of you brings to your roles every single day. As President of CUPE NB, I stand here with immense pride, recognizing the pivotal role that our union members play in shaping New Brunswick’s landscape. Together, we have fought for safer workplaces, better wages, improved benefits, and a stronger voice for workers’ rights. Our collective efforts have truly made a positive impact on the lives of so many.

While we celebrate our achievements, it’s essential to acknowledge that our province is growing, but the rewards of this growth are not being fairly shared. We see big businesses benefiting from tax cuts while hardworking individuals continue to struggle. The rising cost of living, housing challenges, and the imperative need for better resource management and planning are issues that touch the lives of us all. As we enjoy of Labour Day, let us also reflect on how we can stand united to address these challenges head-on.

Our province’s progress should be felt by every citizen, every worker, and every family. By working together, advocating for fair wages, better working conditions, and sustainable policies, we can ensure that New Brunswick becomes a place where everyone reaps the benefits of our collective efforts.

This Labour Day, I invite each and every one of you to participate in the various labour events taking place across the province.

Let’s join hands to celebrate our achievements, rekindle our commitment to workers’ rights, and embrace the power of unity in creating positive change. By standing shoulder to shoulder, we send a strong message that New Brunswick’s growth should uplift all its residents, without leaving anyone behind.

Once again, Happy Labour Day! Let’s continue to be the driving force for positive change in our province.

In Solidarity,

Stephen Drost President, CUPE NB


Bathurst & District Labour Council
Coronation Park Munroe Street Bathurst, NB
September 4, 2023, Parade starts at 1:00 p.m., BBQ and speeches will follow.
Contact: John Gagnon, 506-545-0651

Edmundston District Labour Council
239 Principale Street Saint Basile, NB
September 4, 2023, 11:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Contact: Lorn Martin, 506-737-7063

Moncton & District Labour Council
Centennial Park Moncton, NB
September 3, 2023, 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Contact: Melissa Brown, 506-872-4643

Saint John & District Labour Council
Parade starts at Old Court House on King St. East
Fire Fighter’s Hall & Fisher Lakes, Saint John, NB
September 4, 2023, 11:30 a.m.
Contact: Shawn Wetmore, 506-693-9347

Dalhousie: Organized by CUPE & Restigouche District Labour Council
Softball Tournament, Car Show, Parade and BBQ
Inch Arran Park, Dalhousie, NB
September 1 to 4, 2023:

Friday, September 1 – music in the park
Saturday, September 2 – youth ball hockey tournament, music in the park
Sunday, September 3 – lob ball tournament, free swim at Recreaplex
Monday, September 4 – Labour Day Parade, car show, free hot dogs, corn, popcorn, cotton candy, chips, pop, juice boxes, prize bags, face painting, bouncy castle, little train rides, rides on an antique fire truck, free swim at Recreaplex and magic show. For adults, there will be entertainment at the NBIP from 2:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Contact: Brian Arseneault, 506-686-4050