Eastern Municipal Conference wraps up with successful CETA event

MONCTON: The first-ever Eastern Municipal Conference wrapped up with another round of excellent speakers and a successful public event on CETA – the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement.

Mario Fontaine, president of Quebec Provincial Council for the municipal sector started the day off by sharing the experience of bringing Sherbrooke’s solid waste collection back in-house and gave concrete ways to fight back. He cautioned that although the private sector costs might look lower, once a municipality gets rid of their expertise and equipment, residents face cost increases.

Fontaine explained the campaign his local ran in Sherbrooke and said that to fight privatization, locals need to gather good information with accurate facts and figures. Locals must defend the services they provide through their collective agreements, by joining together with coalition groups, having a good relationship developed with media, and getting the public on our side.

Public joins members for CETA event

Conference attendees were joined by members of the public for a town hall meeting on CETA, the Canada-European Union trade deal being negotiated behind closed doors.

CUPE National President Paul Moist told the crowd of about 300 that as well as being an attack on public services, CETA is unlike any trade deal ever negotiated. “CETA is about access by the European Union to all levels of government and procurement, the services that all of our governments put out for tender. Be it federal, provincial, local government, crown corporations, public transit, airlines, health and social services – most things that were exempted from the free trade agreement with the United States and the agreement between Canada, Mexico and the United States – are being put on the table,” said Moist.

Intellectual property protection extensions in CETA mean that Canadians will pay almost $3 billion more annually for prescription drugs to protect European multi-national pharmaceuticals. “The people of Canada don’t want drug prices to go up, we want drug prices to go down through new and revised policies and a national pharmaceutical program provided to all Canadians,” said Moist to the applause of the crowd.

Ken Thompson, vice president of the Moncton and District Labour Council, shared the experience of the community of Moncton’s fightback against privatization of water ten years ago. “CETA will further erode our rights and public services, and take away local decision-making,” said Thompson. “Canada must implement a national water policy to curb the greed of the privateers.”

Council of Canadians National Chairperson Maude Barlow said that Europeans want permanent access to resources. “It’s a grab for diamonds, gold, oil, natural gas, uranium, potash, nickel, coal – and fish,” said Barlow. “Europe is seeking to remove export restrictions on raw fish and to gain full access by European companies to buy up fishing licenses currently restricted to Canadians.”

A recent study by the World Bank said that by 2030 the world demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 per cent. “Are we going to declare our water in the world to be a commons, a public and human right? Or are we going to put it on the market like running shoes or Coca-cola to the highest bidder?” asked Barlow. “CETA will enable resources like water to be a marketable commodity.” Participants were invited to sign a postcard opposing CETA. Pensions, water and political action

The afternoon ended with presentations by three more speakers. CUPE researcher Kevin Skerrett talked about pensions in today’s context, explained the differences between defined benefit and defined contribution plans, debunked pension myths, and suggested 10 pension strategies.

CUPE Nova Scotia President Danny Cavanagh spoke about water and the dangers of contracting out. “Water is a human right and should be guaranteed to all people. Water is vital to people’s health and our livability,” said Cavanagh. He noted that “the table has been set” and talked about our challenges in the face of contracting out.

New Brunswick Federation of Labour President Michel Boudreau was the final speaker. He spoke about political action and reminded delegates, “You are the only group who have the chance to elect your bosses.” Boudreau said that rather than spending your time trying to beat a few bullies, to spend your time electing others who will support you.

Marc Doiron, president of the Council of Municipal Employees of New Brunswick, said that almost 50 Locals were represented at the Eastern Municipal Conference. “We had good information about what’s happening – information that we don’t always have when we work in small municipalities – about privatization, CETA, pension plans. The more that we talk about it, the more we learn.” Doiron noted that the conference was relevant and valuable and they hope to hold another one next year.

Abolishing the ACSW: Alward needs to change his mind

FREDERICTON: The Canadian Union of Public Employees, New Brunswick Division (CUPE NB), is joining the public outcry and asking the Alward government to change its decision to abolish the Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

“We believe that the decision to do away with the Advisory Council is a way to muzzle women in our province,” said Daniel Légère, President of CUPE NB.

“Over the years, the Advisory Council has cried out against injustices and inequities in this province. The Council has done an exceptional job with scanty resources to make sure that the government can’t forget pay equity, childcare services, the place of women in politics, discrimination and violence, to name only a few of its concerns. The Council plays an essential role, and it has been a source of information and analysis on the status of women in the province for the past 35 years.”

“Abolishing the Council to save a few thousand dollars is inacceptable, and it will silence a strong, independent voice for women in the province.”

“Over the past few years we’ve seen Stephen Harper’s Conservative government try to muzzle advocacy and women’s groups like the NB Coalition for Pay Equity and the NB Child Care Coalition by cutting their funding. David Alward’s Conservatives are going even farther by completely abolishing the Advisory Council.”

“The Conservatives’ election platform talked about transparency and made a commitment to work closely with the Advisory Council. This decision certainly wasn’t transparent.”

“The Premier needs to reverse this budget decision and show that he is really listening to people,” Daniel Légère concluded.

Thumbs up to new Moncton High School – CUPE 2745

Moncton:  The union representing more than 3,300 education support staff across New Brunswick is giving the thumbs up to the Minister of Education’s plans for a new Moncton High School.

CUPE Local 2745 President Sandy Harding says, “We think Minister Carr’s plan is well thought out and the best option available. CUPE members who work at Moncton High will be active and engaged in the process of bringing this new school to reality.

“They will hold high standards for health & safety and will make sure they have a healthy and safe workplace upon their return to Moncton High in the fall,” she says.

Says Harding, “We are willing to give Minister Carr’s plan a chance and will actively participate in the Transition Committee,” she has also announced.

“We are particularly happy to hear that this will be a publicly built school and that the Minister has not been lured into a P3, or so-called ‘public private partnership’ which would be a bad deal for New Brunswick taxpayers,” says Harding.

Government should re-establish a fair taxation system

MIRAMICHI – Further cuts to public services either on the provincial or municipal level is not the remedy to the current financial situation in New Brunswick.

The three unions representing the City of Miramichi employees – CUPE Local 1387 Civic Employees; CUPE Local 3863 Inside Workers; and CUPE Local 4558 Firefighters – are very concerned with the possibility of further reductions in municipal services.

“Last night, members of the three unions met to discuss the city’s current financial situation”, explained Patrick Roy, CUPE Representative.

“The municipal workers are concerned the city might put the burden of the current financial situation on their shoulders.”

“We all know that the region is going through a difficult time. We may not be able to replace the jobs and the tax revenues lost from the mill anytime soon, but the provincial government can alleviate the situation by going back to a progressive tax system”, said Roy.

The government’s decision to reduce the income tax for the wealthy and large corporations has dramatically reduced its revenue base and its ability to properly finance municipalities who provide daily services to the citizens of this province.

“Earlier this week, Premier Alward met with the city officials and admitted that the region was under a lot a stress. The Premier can, if he wants, help alleviate this stress by re-establishing a fair taxation system instead of looking at cutting further public services. The loss of income tax revenues forced the province to reduce even further the annual unconditional grant municipalities receive to provide services such as water, sewage, garbage collection, recreational facilities, etc.”

“We need to generate revenues and, to do so, the government needs to go back to a progressive tax system where everyone is paying their fair share of taxes. It also means that municipalities have to consider slowly raising their taxes to offset the cuts from the provincial government.”

“We will continue to work closely with the city to provide good public services in our community. We believe we can help the city save more money by bringing back in house all municipal services,” concluded Roy.


Pooled retirement pension plan is a step backward

FREDERICTON: The proposed pooled retirement pension plan announced yesterday by Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is a step backward from real pension reform.

“Instead of improving the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), the Federal proposal is a sign Canada’s banks and financial institutions have hijacked this important issue”, said Daniel Légère, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees in New Brunswick (CUPE NB).

“This proposal doesn’t address the issue of workers not being able to save for retirement.” A recent Environics poll shows 74 per cent of Canadians don’t make RRSP contributions, not because they don’t want to save for retirement but because they simply can’t afford it.

“We believe, the best, most effective, and most cost-efficient route to addressing retirement income insecurity is expanding the CPP, an option supported by more than three quarters of Atlantic Canadians.”

“We are calling on our provincial and territorial finance ministers to respect the wishes of Canadians and reject the Federal Finance Minister’s proposal at their meeting next week.”

“Increasing CPP benefit is just the right thing to do to guarantee every worker a decent, secure income in retirement”, concluded Légère.

CUPE 1253 renews its call for action on school bus use

Fredericton: The union representing school bus drivers, CUPE Local 1253, is concerned about another incident that happened during the transport of students for an extra-curricular activity.

“One of our professional bus drivers, who is also a driver-trainer, was asked to take the Aux Quatre Vents school hockey team to Miramichi. On his way back, he noticed the multi-function activity bus was not handling right. He decided to pull over to the side of the road and discovered that the nuts on the back wheels were loose”, explained the president of the New Brunswick Council of School District Unions (CUPE 1253), Delalene Harris Foran.

“The driver decided to have the bus towed back to Bathurst and parents had to come and pick up their kids.”

“Apparently, the bus had been inspected in November and all new tires were put on, but nobody took the bus back to have the wheel nuts torqued”, explained Harris Foran.

“We can’t ask volunteer drivers to be responsible for the maintenance of the vehicle. This time, we were fortunate that the driver was a professional school bus driver and decided to stop to inspect the wheels.”

“This is the second time in less than a month that a bus transporting students to extra-curricular activities had to be pulled off the road for safety reasons.”

“Once again, we call upon the minister of Education to implement the Coroner’s Inquest recommendation that only Class 2-B professional school bus drivers using school buses be used to transport children at extra-curricular activities at all times”, concluded Harris Foran.

Government extends collective bargaining rights to casual employees

FREDERICTON – Legislation has been passed that will extend collective bargaining rights to casual government employees, Human Resources Minister Rick Brewer announced today.

Amendments to the Public Service Labour Relations Act repealed a section that had excluded casual employees from collective bargaining until they had worked for at least six months. Employees will now be part of a union from the first day of employment.

“These amendments will allow casual workers in all parts of the public service to have employee status on the first day of employment,” said Brewer. “This will allow them to join a union immediately and have their terms of employment covered and negotiated under a collective agreement.”

Basic entitlements for casual employees, such as 80 per cent of the applicable job rate, seniority, the right to file a grievance and to be recalled seasonally if work performance is satisfactory, will come into effect June 17 when the legislation is proclaimed. The province will negotiate other
terms and conditions of employment for casual employees with each union.

“For over 25 years, public sector unions have been seeking collective bargaining rights for casual employees,” said Danny Légère, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees – NB. “We are looking forward to representing casual employees at the bargaining table to improve on their working conditions, wages and quality of life.”

“The number of casual employees varies by season and fluctuates between 7,000 and 9,000 people throughout all government operations. We are pleased with Premier Graham following through with his commitment that he gave prior to being elected premier to amend legislation so that casual employees would have the right to the collective bargaining process,” Légère added.

In June 2009, Justice Paulette Garnett ruled that the definition of employee in the Public Service Labour Relations Actviolated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by excluding casual workers from collective bargaining. The province chose not to appeal the decision and was given 12 months to amend the legislation.

“Over the past 12 months, our government has been working diligently with union leaders to address the concerns of casual employees,” said Brewer. “These amendments have been developed after extensive consultation with our union partners and will improve working conditions for casual employees across our province.”

Liberal government taking wrong turn on P3 highway

Fredericton: The Union representing highway workers is asking the government to reconsider the use of a public private partnership for the twinning of the entire length of Route 1 from the United States border at St. Stephen.

“Studies have proven over and over again that the use of P3’s to build and maintain highways is not cheaper as politicians would lead us to believe, said Andrew Hardy, President of CUPE 1190.

The highway between Moncton and Fredericton – a P3 – is a good example of this. Each year, the province is paying MRDC, a private company, $10 million just to maintain the highway.

“The Minister of Finance stated that the private sector could do it quicker than the government can. We would like to know if the Minister asked his colleague, the Minister of Transportation, for input on how to build the new highway? We recently met with the Minister of Transportation, Denis Landry, who told us that they would not use the P3 model to build that road,” said Hardy.

The President of CUPE New Brunswick, Daniel Léger, believes the government is losing an opportunity to come out of the economic crisis well positioned by letting multinational corporations own and operate our transportation routes while the tax payer foots the bill.

CUPE is asking the Social Development Minister to save Saint John Group Homes

Saint John: The Union representing the employees of New Direction in Saint John is calling upon the government to save their community residences from closure.

“Last week, the Board of Directors of New Direction informed CUPE Local 4569, which represents Residential Care Workers working in its three group homes, that they are shutting down all of its facilities by the end of December”, said CUPE Representative Vallie Stearns.

“The Board of Directors told us they can’t afford to operate the group homes any longer due to ‘projected financials and inadequate funding’. Apparently, they lost approximately $100,000 in funding revenues in the last fiscal year, and $70,000 to date in this fiscal year”, explained Stearns.

The Union will be presenting a letter to Social Development Minister Sue Stultz asking for the immediate reinstatement of funding.

“For years now, we have been on a roller coaster,” said Cheryl Nice, President of CUPE Local 4569. “Too many beds have been empty for too long, even though there are plenty of people who need our services. The Department of Social Development has forced New Direction to close homes and re-open them in the past by withdrawing placements. Who will take care of the mentally ill? Non-profit agencies cannot provide reliable care unless the Department of Social Development increases per diem rates and provides stable placements,” explained CUPE Local 4569 President, Cheryl Nice.

The closure of New Direction will result in the loss of 13 full-time and 13 part-time jobs, and the loss of three houses providing 18 beds for adults struggling with mental illness and other disabilities. New Direction Inc., a non-profit agency, has been providing community residential services since the late 1970s in the Saint John area and at one point operated five houses with a total of 30 beds.

According to Cheryl Nice, the impact of this closure will be even greater on the residents. “This agency provides homes for adults in our community that struggle with mental illness and other disabilities. For those people, the community residences operated by New Direction are their home. If suitable placements cannot be found for our clients, they will end up in below-standard homes, leading some of them to live on the streets.”

According to the President of the New Brunswick Council of Group Home Unions, Romana Sehic, “The Government is turning its back on the most vulnerable in our society. What will happen to our clients if agencies such as New Direction are forced to close? Are we going back to institutionalization? Group home services are vital to those suffering from mental illness; vital to them and vital to society as a whole,” concluded Sehic.