Good news: Cannabis NB will remain under public control

Fredericton – On March 19, 2021, the Government of New Brunswick announced it would stop pursuing its plan to privatize Cannabis NB.

“Selling off our public assets, may it be in retail,  healthcare, transport, utilities always ends up costing residents more in the long run,” said Brien Watson, President of CUPE NB. “I am relieved to see they listened to the calls of workers, communities, businesses and residents who called to keep the Crown Corporation as a public entity,” he added.

“I wish Higgs had renounced earlier, because his privatization threat unjustly created a lot of anguish for those retail workers. For more than a year, workers had to live in uncertainty, fearing job losses despite doing the best they could and bringing back money for provincial coffers.”

Cannabis NB generated four consecutive profitable quarters and expects to exceed $10 million in profit for the year. “Like many Crown Corporation, they needed some adjustment time to fine-tune their operation to be really viable.

CUPE NB believes public retail and production – full public ownership of the complete production and distribution chain – would be the best way to generate funds and recirculate profits in our services, in our economy, for the benefit of our communities.

“Now, at least, we keep a part of the profit chain – the retail element – for the benefit of New Brunswickers. It would have been foolish to let corporate giants like Loblaws or Canopy Growth make money off the back of residents, instead of returning the profits to the public in programs and services for all,” said Watson.

“When it’s publicly run, there is safety, transparency, accountability and we know we are no giving away money to tax-avoiding offshore corporations,” concluded Watson.

An Inexcusable “No News” Budget

Fredericton – Today, New Brunswick’s Finance Minister Ernie Steeves presented the provincial budget, which fails to rise up to the challenges posed by the Pandemic.

“Even in ordinary times, this would be qualified as a “No News Budget.” But as we are going through the challenge of our generation, their inaction is inexcusable,” said Brien Watson, President of CUPE NB. 

“They needed to show ambition and vision so New Brunswick could both leverage historically low borrowing costs and our enviable situation in the Pandemic. Sadly, the measures miss the target and fail to invest in people first,  where we get the “biggest bang for our bucks,” said Watson.

CUPE NB notes one bright spot, where $12.4 million is allocated to finally tackle the poverty wages of home support workers, community residence workers, special care home workers, and family support workers. CUPE NB, along with the NB Community Service Unions, has lobbied many governments over the last decade so they would act on this file.

Beyond this, there is next to nothing to improve public services and help those who deliver those services. No actions have been planned to deal with the magnitude of the recruitment and retention crisis in the public sector.

“This Budget contains no measures to deal with the fact our province has the weakest family incomes in Canada. It contains no measures to seriously help municipalities, small businesses and to give a boost to our rural communities, ” said Watson. “Even without the Pandemic, the government should have had a more ambitious plan to reverse the effect of more than a decade of stagnant economic growth,” he added.

“To put it flatly, this budget is botching our best chance to make New Brunswick a better place for all. His tunnel vision makes him repeat past mistakes and missed opportunities that put us in our current economic position. It’s jeopardizing future growth,” concluded Brien Watson.

Wholesale gas price margins: Goliath backs out

Brothers, Sisters, Friends,

You have all heard the news; Irving Oil has withdrawn its application to the Energy and Utilities Board to get an increase in gas and heating oil wholesale profits margins. This is a victory for all ordinary New Brunswickers, it’s a victory for those who struggle to heat their homes or fill up their tanks.

Irving Oil wanted to use the pandemic as an excuse to increase their profit margins by over 50% on heating fuel and gasoline prices. If approved by the Board, CBC calculated that they would have gained up to $60 million dollars on the backs of ordinary residents.

These billionaires thought they could threaten shortages as a club to bully the Board into getting what they wanted. They were bold enough to do this without even providing basic, open and transparent evidence to support their claims on why they needed this extra 60 million dollars in these times.

Siding with the intimidator was NB Energy Minister Mike Holland, who had sent a letter to the Energy and Utilities Board in support of the Irving application. He had Higgs’ approval to influence the independent tribunal’s decision, even if it violated ministerial norms. With this kind of support, it’s clear the Irvings were hoping to get a “quick and dirty” pass from the Board.

Thankfully, citizen groups along the Common Front for Social justice and CUPE NB, got involved in the public hearing process. They did this to voice the concerns of workers and vulnerable residents. This brought much needed scrutiny and attention from the public and media on this blatant pandemic profiteering attempt. A little bit of prodding and questioning was all it took to get this Goliath to back down.

This victory reminds us of the importance of what follows:

  • We cannot stand idly by when we have a government who tells front line workers to take zeros at bargaining tables even though they put their lives on the line to keep the people of our province safe.
  • We cannot stand idly by when Higgs does all he can to support price gouging for his billionaire and corporate friends, may it be in keeping rents uncontrolled or pushing for increases in gasoline and heating costs.
  • We cannot stand idly by when politicians believe a 5-cent increase to the minimum wage (11.75) is “good enough” when we have the lowest median wages in Canada, and when poverty experts say a living wage in NB really starts at $19.55 an hour.

For us, the fight for affordability goes hand in hand with the struggle to improve working conditions and wages.

Saint John Laundry Management Must be Held Accountable

Saint John  Today, CUPE Local 1190 and CUPE Local 1251 held a press conference to expose blatant mismanagement of a health and safety incident which happened at the Saint John Laundry facility earlier this week. The Saint John Laundry processes linens for nearly half of the province’s nursing homes and hospitals.

On March 3rd, the Saint John Laundry plant management acted in an unsafe manner towards the staff, the members of CUPE Locals 1251 and 1190. “They mismanaged an emergency which could have resulted in serious injury and even the death of employees,” said Chris Curran, President of Local 1251.

Chronology of events according to Locals 1251 and 1190:

  • On Wednesday, March 3, 2021, a fire alarm at Saint John Laundry went off at 1:05 pm. The employees left their workstation and went outside to be roll-called to make sure everyone was out.
  • After being outside for only a short moment, management ordered the staff to re-enter the building, return to their positions and recommence work. This decision was made while the fire alarm was still ringing, and the fire department was not yet on site.
  • A few minutes after the employees were back inside, a decision was then made by management to urge everyone to exit the building after people smelled something burning. As the alarm was still ringing, pulling the fire alarm at that point was fruitless. At that point, supervisors were running around in panic, screaming above the noise of the alarm and the machines to try to get all workers to go back outside immediately.
  • Once outside, no roll call was made. Workers and management had no idea if everyone had gotten out while the firefighters were entering the building.

“That is an industrial facility, processing on average 25 tons of linens per day.  There is major amperage running for the machines in there, all kinds of strong chemicals, solvents, massive propane-run dryers,” said Brent Wiggins, President of CUPE 1190. “It’s extremely negligent for management to have demanded all workers go back in, minutes only after they were out, instead of waiting for firefighters. That is truly incompetent,” he added.

“It’s not the first time that management has shown ineptitude, disrespect and disregard for his employees,” said Chris Curran. “This month’s case is frightening. They completely disregarded the health and safety of their whole staff just to maintain productivity above all else.”

Following the incident, both CUPE locals sent letters to the Service New Brunswick Minister Mary Wilson demanding the following:

  1. The immediate termination of the management for the March 3rd incident;
  2. An investigation of the incident; and
  3. An entire investigation into this toxic workplace, covering the ongoing issues, with a complete report provided to the CUPE locals.

More than 120 CUPE members currently work at the facility.

Government Is Unjustly Stalling LPN Compensation Process

February 16, 2021 – Fredericton, NB – Health care workers denounce the government’s inaction and filibustering tactics in recognizing the work of Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) in New Brunswick.

“We met with Government on the Joint Reclassification Committee to get the LPN the proper recognition they deserve, specifically on their increased duties and responsibilities. Once again government is putting up a wall to prevent necessary adjustments,” said Norma Robinson, President of the NB Council of Hospital Unions (NBCHU – Local 1252).

“This Government continues to say they support and respect the LPN profession but are being uncooperative in the private meetings,” said Robinson. “We have been working on this file since 2018 and each time we propose solutions, the government puts up a roadblock,” she said.

“Blaine Higgs has said many times that he understands the importance of LPNs in providing daily patient care but has not moved an inch to step in to address the issues. Why is it that other Atlantic provinces have done their work to properly compensate and recognize LPNs, but not New Brunswick?” asked Robinson.

Local 1252 is looking for an internal-reclassification process which would go beyond simply adding one pay band level for LPNs. Moving LPNs from a pay band 10 to pay band 11 represents an adjustment of $0.93, to which government is also stalling on. “This would be a step in the right direction, but more must be done by government,” said Lisa Allen, herself an LPN and part of Local 1252 executive. “We need to be getting closer to PEI and NS, who make $29.60 and $30.27,” added Allen.

“The resolution mechanism to address LPN specific issues is being filibustered by government. They are abusing the generous timelines negotiated in the 2018 collective agreement. Therefore, we are calling on the Premier to allow binding arbitration to settle this unfairly stalled process,” concluded Robinson.

CUPE Local 1252 represents over 9000 healthcare workers in NB, over 2000 of which are LPNs.

An Open Letter to Premier Higgs

On February 6, 2021, the CUPE NB Executive published in all NB dailies an open letter sent to Premier Higgs days before. This letter is a cry from the heart, from frontline workers.  Below the PDF reader, you can find the full text of the letter.

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Premier Higgs, it’s Time to Listen to the Front-Line Workers

Dear Premier Higgs,

We, the front-line workers of New Brunswick, write to you today because we need you to hear us. Public employees have been pouring their hearts into keeping our province running during this pandemic. In every sector, members are performing miracles with the few resources they have, despite being already stretched thin, overburdened, and understaffed.

We are proud New Brunswickers, and we know the value of hard work. But we are feeling increasingly abandoned by your government.

This feeling of being taken for granted began way before the pandemic, before you even took power, Mr. Higgs. But you have been in the drivers’ seat for more than 2 years. When you began your minority government in 2018, we took every chance we had to offer collaboration and bring constructive solutions. Early on, unions flagged to your officials the ongoing major recruitment and retention crisis happening in most sectors. This problem extends beyond healthcare, social services and community care. CUPE locals raised the alarm to you and previous Premiers on how there were more retirements than new full-time position posted. All said “OK, we will look into that,” and then nothing was done.

When you took over from Brian Gallant, we wrote you letters and asked for meetings to explain to you how care staff wages were among the lowest in the country. We showed your Ministers how this resulted in dangerously understaffed nursing homes and hospitals. Yet, nothing has changed since.

In fact, your government spent a record amount of public funds (over $350 000, as revealed by Radio-Canada in December 2020) in legal fees just to deny workers’ bargaining rights, rather than negotiating a fair wage increase for nursing home staff. How was this “necessary”, when you know our province has the lowest median family incomes in all of Canada?

Many municipal workers’ locals and the members of Local 1190 (General Labour and Trades) showed you ways to save money by bringing work in-house, instead of contracting out work like road paving and painting, garbage collection and street sign making. Unfortunately, there seems to be no rush from cities and departments to stop handing over cash to out-of-province private companies rather than contracting-in work.

We are proud of the work we do, and we want our province to grow and run well. But when we raise issues and bring solutions, we are distressed by the absence of leadership in upper management and department heads. The input of people actually doing the work should not be ignored.

Where is the leadership to honour the deal signed in 2020 between over 500 NB Liquor workers and ANBL’s management? What have liquor store employees done to deserve this, when they have been working all out, delivering record sales? What happened to the principle of “A deal is a deal”?

The services residents rely on work because we do. Yet, time and time again, our attempts to bring goodwill and cooperation are met with snubs, hindrances, and disrespect.

This month, a national study proved to all how your government has allocated the least resources and support to the front lines, on all metrics. Out of every 100 dollars spent in NB, $99 has come from the federal government. In fact, you even left millions of federal dollars on the table instead of helping. There is no mystery why on January 20, economist Richard Saillant wrote in the Brunswick News dailies: “Government should recognize that it does have the fiscal flexibility to respond much better to the crisis.”

This one fact alone, Mr. Premier, captures the essence of what is wrong here : Before Christmas, when we were out there giving our 110% when that second COVID-19 wave hit, you told all public sector workers that they should all take “zeros”, a wage freeze. That’s not how you build trust with those you call “front-line heroes”.

Your decisions as Premier go against the national consensus on the economic recovery and against what we feel is best for ordinary New Brunswickers. To recover from the pandemic, we need public investments in all sectors, not more austerity policies. Failing to do so will bring us decades backwards. The last time austerity was imposed after a much smaller crisis, that hard rule of “doing more with less” got our province down a 13-year-long economic stagnation.

Mr. Premier, we know you have the power to invest in the public sector, in front-line workers. If you share our desire to see our province grow and prosper, it requires openness and cooperation on the government’s end too. Do what’s right: act to make a positive difference for workers and their families.


The CUPE NB Executive



“LPNs are Nurses Too” says Healthcare Worker’s Union

January 25, 2021 – Fredericton, NB – Today, CUPE Local 1252, the union representing over 9 000 healthcare workers in New Brunswick, held a virtual press conference to demand government properly recognize the work done by Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs). Watch the full press conference here : CLICK on the image below.

Watch the full 1252 press conference (29 minutes total)

“The health care system relies heavily on the work of LPNs for hospital and extra-mural care.  Despite this, the NB Government still refuses to recognize the importance and scope of this profession in the health care system today. We are on the verge of a recruitment and retention crisis. When will government act to improve their wages and working conditions?” asked Norma Robinson, President of CUPE Local 1252.

Local 1252 demanded that the government immediately do the following:

  1. Complete the Joint Job Evaluation Process (demanded by CUPE 2 years ago) so LPNs get an immediate wage recognition;
  2. Recognize that NB LPNs should have the right to be called nurses, just like in all other Canadian provinces;
  3. Deal with the recruitment and retention issues by recognizing the value of their work and compensating them accordingly as other Atlantic provinces do; and
  4. Scrap “imposed wage freezes and wage restriction mandates on all public sector worker”. Higgs should come to the bargaining table with a respectful wage increase for all healthcare workers, because “zeros” is disrespect for all frontline heroes.

LPNs are frontline care nurses that patients see every day in the hospitals. They are responsible for managing patient care plans. Today, they work collaboratively as a Care Team member with the Registered Nurses and Doctors to do much more than basic patient care. CUPE Local 1252 notes that the scope of practice of LPNs is 90% that of a Registered Nurse in NB, however LPNs only make 64% of an RN’s hourly wage.

“Despite work, skills and educational requirement increases, despite even COVID-19 pressures put on LPNs, the NB Government has not done anything to adjust what is the worst compensation packages and recognition for LPNs in all of Atlantic provinces. LPNs in New Brunswick make on average 14% less than LPNs in PEI, NS and NFLD,” denounced Robinson.

“Recently, LPNs have raised their concerns with media, on how there could be an exodus of workers if nothing is done, and I agree: if the government fails to act, the staffing situation will worsen,” said Robinson.

During the press conference, Robinson condemned the ongoing “divide-and-conquer” strategy used by politicians and right-wing newspaper editors to mislead workers to blame their unions for poor working conditions: “Let’s be clear, management and government decide working conditions, and unions push back during bargaining to get fairness and recognition for all. But with Higgs’ wage freeze plan, they leave no room for good faith bargaining and fairness for LPNs. Workers are pushed to the max, this wage freeze plan is a time bomb,” said Robinson. “LPNs are tired of waiting. Healthcare workers are tired of waiting. We invite all our members to push government out of its inaction,” she concluded.


Some quick facts:

  • There are over 4000 LPNs in New Brunswick, half of which work in hospitals, the remainder in mainly work in long-term care and special care homes. CUPE Local 1252 represents over 2000 LPNs in the NB Healthcare system.
  • Two years ago, the Government promised in the collective agreement to CUPE to conduct a Joint Job Evaluation process to properly adjust recognition and wages for LPNs in the Patient Services. The current Government has been stalling the process to avoid compensating the LPNs fairly.
  • There is a dire need for LPNs: Approximately 200 graduate each year in NB, but over 800 will retire over the next 5 years.
  • Over the years, the educational requirements for LPNs in NB increased: initially, it was a 12-month program, but became an 18-month study program in 2004 and was increased to 24 months in 2012.

Front Line Heroes Shouldn’t Get Zeros

Fredericton – On December 11, 2020, CUPE NB held a press conference to present its disagreement to the wage freeze/restriction mandate the Higgs government wants to impose on public sector workers.

The conference was held immediately following a 2-hour meeting between Premier Higgs and elected officials from the largest CUPE locals in New Brunswick.

“The `Heroes on the front lines,’ those who continue to do their best to get us out of the pandemic, deserve more than zeros,” said Brien Watson, President of CUPE NB.

The premier noted the work of CUPE members during this pandemic and the collaborative effort of unions to negotiate good mobility agreements. “The Premier has to recognize how workers who are integral to the pandemic response cannot be ignored to achieve a strong economic recovery. Our economy will need wage increases for our members to help stimulate the recovery and our members deserve a fair wage increase,” said Sandy Harding, Director of CUPE’s Maritime Office.

CUPE NB reminded the premier how most public service sectors, including more than 20,300 CUPE members, are without a new collective agreement. The government has continually stalled negotiations and members have been waiting for far too long.

Union Local Number of members Contract expiry date
1252: NB Council of Hospital Unions 11 000 June 30, 2019
2745: Educational Support Staff 4 400 28 February, 2018
1253: NB Council of School District Unions 2 600 March 31, 2019
1418: Rehabilitation, Therapy and RCPO 1 100 August 15, 2017
1190: General Labour and Trades, Part I 1 700 December 15, 2017
1251: Institutional Care and Services (corrections) 790 June 15, 2017
963: Alcool NB Liquor 500 March 31st, 2019
5017 & 5026: NBCC & CCNB 175 December 15, 2019
1866: WorkSafe NB (Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission) 120 December 31, 2018
1840: Court Stenographers 80 September 30, 2016


Economically, the province is faring comparatively well. “The money is there. In fact, to date, it is the federal government that has put the lion’s share of the money into the fight against COVID-19: out of every dollar invested in NB, 90 cents come from the federal government. Higgs, on the other hand, has yet to do his part to support the front lines,” said Watson.

CUPE NB believes the recovery must be built on a strengthened foundation – good public services and workers with good buying power. This approach, in times of historically low borrowing rates, is the method recommended by banks like CIBC and the federal government itself, which has completely set aside the austerity approach to protect the recovery.

“Back when he was finance minister, Higgs tried austerity and wage restraints. This led to stagnation and even net economic decline over the following years. It definitely contributed to the out-migration and therefore the decline in our population,” said Harding. “We don’t want him to repeat the same mistakes,” she added.

“Let’s not forget how NB now has the lowest median wages in the country according to Statistics Canada. Investing in the front lines and in ordinary people, that must be the new mandate,” concluded Watson.

Health care staff at odds with NB government over surgical masks

Fredericton – November 27, 2020 –  CUPE 1252, representing over 12,000 members in the New Brunswick healthcare system, is appalled by the reductions of personal protective equipment (PPE) allocation for healthcare staff.

“From day one, the staff have all had access to level 3 surgical masks to provide a maximum layer of protection just below the N95. However, Horizon recently downgraded that requirement to a level 1, and that is simply wrong,” said Norma Robinson, President of CUPE 1252.

A level one mask only provides general protection for staff, whereas a level 3 provides maximum protection. “It now appears as though the province and health authorities are going to nickel and dime the staff and throw health and safety to the wolves,” added Robinson.

CUPE 1252 has been very cooperative with the provincial government and health authorities when it comes to dealing with this global pandemic, but that cooperation is now becoming strained. Since the beginning of this pandemic, there has been plenty of understanding of the importance of proper PPE for all staff and that included the right to proper face protection.

“The first and last line of defence against this virus are the hospitals in this province, and it makes no sense at all to jeopardize the staff that is providing that defence,” says Ralph McBride, CUPE National Servicing Representative.

“We are 9 months into this fight, in the middle of the second wave. How can they pivot and say their employees’ health does not matter by downgrading these masks to something inferior than first supplied?” asked McBride.

“Healthcare employees are working above and beyond in their stressful daily routines. The last thing they should worry about in this second wave is having less protection. This needs to be corrected immediately,” said Robinson.

“Premier Higgs do the right thing and tell your health authorities to stop nickel-and-diming people. Health and safety must come first!” concluded Robinson.

“Renewed and Reinvented Public Services” Promised in NB Throne Speech

Fredericton, November 17, 2020 – Today, Lt. Governor Brenda Murphy delivered Blaine Higgs’s first majority government Throne Speech. Government rightfully underlined workers and civil services’ diligent response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“Government said they want to govern collaboratively and reinvent New Brunswick, and that is good. But I remind the Premier that if he wants to reinvent public services, public service workers must be at the table and be heard,” said CUPE NB President Brien Watson.

In the Speech, government wishes for more private capital investment, but unjustly blames the under-performance of the private sector on the public sector’s strength.

“A strong public sector means good roads, quality healthcare and education. This is a strength, in fact, this attracts investments and that is how we build stronger communities’” reminded Watson.

“To see the NB economy grow and see more people choosing to live in our province, the Government must put people first. This requires improving the socioeconomic conditions of workers,” said Watson. “Reversing the effects of a decade of stagnating wages is the best way to do that,” he added.

On the healthcare front, the government said more “optimization” must be done. “Optimization often means cuts – but it doesn’t have to, if the government is bold, innovative and sees the public services as part of the solution,” said Watson. “Investing to bring more work in-house, when it can be done better, should be a priority. We could save money, if for example, we worked with Atlantic governments to develop and produce our own generic pharmaceuticals,” said Watson.

To this day, NB is the province who invested the least in the fight against COVID-19. “To take advantage of our enviable position, our province should take the federal funds to give a break to and improve our front line,” concluded Watson.