New Brunswick: Unacceptable anti-worker, anti-social actions

Locked-out CUPE Local 4193 workers and supporters rally before dispersing to respect COVID-19 distancing regulations, Allardville, March 18, 2020 | CUPE Local 4193

Protest against overnight closings of hospital emergency rooms, Sackville, New Brunswick, February 16, 2020 | Bruce Wark

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs announced on February 16, the suspension of a series of anti-social measures due to be implemented March 11. The most brutal and life-threatening measure was the permanent overnight closures of the emergency departments of six community hospitals, in Caraquet, Grand Falls, Perth-Andover, Sackville, Sainte-Anne-de-Kent, and Sussex. Workers’ Forum reports that the ruling elites in New Brunswick are using the COVID-19 pandemic to escalate their attacks on the working class and public health.

Workers locked out despite emergency

CUPE New Brunswick informs from Allardville on March 20 that despite a provincial state of emergency, the Chaleur Regional Service Commission (CRSC) directors are still refusing to let the Red Pine landfill workers come back to work.

“On Tuesday [March 17], we asked the employer to pause their lockout during the COVID-19 crisis. They refused,” said Serge Plourde, President of CUPE Local 4193.

The 23 workers have been locked-out since February because CRSC management wants more power to deny sick leave to workers.

“They say doctors’ notes are required on the first day you call in sick. Top medical experts have all denounced such policies. Why? Because it seriously increases the number of employees working sick,” said Robert LeMoignan, CUPE Servicing Representative.

“The whole world is doing all it can to fight the pandemic. Meanwhile, the CRSC wants to force work policies that aggravate the crisis!” said LeMoignan.

After the province declared a state of emergency on March 19, CRSC management posted six new “scab” job openings online.

“At least three replacement workers [each paid over $15 an hour more than regular workers] are on site. The directors are also paying $300 an hour for the services of an anti-union lawyer from Fredericton,” said LeMoignan.

“They are noticing our members’ experience is necessary to run the site, but they still want to break us. We should be back at work during this crisis. It’s not a time to fool around,” said Plourde.

“These directors – Dayna Carroll and Jocelyne Hachey – have lost all credibility. Their refusal to pause the lockout, during a state of emergency, is making the Chaleur area mayors look like complete fools,” said LeMoignan.

Unacceptable Anti-Worker Actions of Ruling Elites

By Pierre Chénier

Workers’ Forum has received reports from northern and southern New Brunswick that ruling elites in the province are using the COVID-19 pandemic to escalate their attacks on the working class.

Allardville Landfill Workers

In the Chaleur Region in the north, the Chaleur Regional Service Commission (CRSC) locked out 23 Allardville landfill workers on February 12. They are members of CUPE Local 4193. From the beginning of the lockout, the CRSC has hired scabs to cross the picket line and even received a court order to limit the number of picketers at any time to six.

In response to this attack on their rights, the CUPE members and supporters of the 23 locked-out workers have taken their struggle to the community and have received a great response and support. CUPE Local 4193 held a rally in Belledune on March 12, where strong community support was shown for the locked-out workers. Following the rally, CUPE presented the Deputy Mayor of Belledune with a petition signed by 1,200 community members from across the region calling for an end to the lockout.

The workers say that before the pandemic emergency they had been going door to door in the region to explain the situation facing the landfill workers. CUPE reports the community expressed strong opposition to the lockout, in particular to the use of scabs, which people feel is unjust and uses the unemployed in the region in a spiteful way to split the people and attack particular workers. The petition is available here.

Following a provincial government emergency pandemic directive on March 19, the Allardville landfill workers took down their picket in compliance with the order not to congregate during the COVID-19 crisis. Immediately upon the declaration of the New Brunswick emergency and removal of the picket, the CRSC posted a new notice on its website to hire more scabs to replace the positions held by locked-out CUPE Local 4193 members at wages well above what workers receive under their collective agreement.

Sandy Harding, CUPE Maritimes Regional Director, told the media that she was “disgusted” that the Chaleur regional government would use the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to escalate their use of scabs to replace CUPE workers. “This is truly a shameful situation,” she said. “We reached out to the employer and respectfully asked them to pause the lockout during this crisis situation and they quickly refused. We then asked them to bargain (virtually) so that we could come to some resolution and allow these workers the respect they deserve; but the employer’s representative doesn’t really want to talk unless the local agrees to concessions on sick notes and Union leave language. I am disgusted by this whole situation and my heart goes out to the strong workers who are simply standing up for collective agreement language they already have.”

CUPE Local 4193 President Serge Plourde, a labourer at the landfill, spoke to the media after seeing his job advertised by the CRSC. Plourde says the 23 members locked-out of their worksite are being treated like the garbage sent to the landfill by the CRSC, whose board members are the mayors of Belledune, Bathurst, Petit-Rocher, Pointe-Verte, Beresford, Nigadoo and four Local Service District representatives of the provincial government.

In the face of the pandemic, the locked-out workers had agreed to return to their jobs and reopen the landfill if the CRSC would resume negotiations for an acceptable collective agreement. The CRSC bluntly refused to agree and instead reintroduced demands already settled and insisted workers accept the employer’s demands, including the one forcing workers to provide a doctor’s note when off sick even for one day and to limit the number of unpaid union leave days taken by worker representatives.

In rejecting the workers’ offer to return to work, the CRSC also said it had appointed a new negotiator from Fredericton who only speaks and reads English. The union team’s lead negotiator, Robert LeMoignan, CUPE National Representative, told the media this manoeuvre underscores the employer’s dictatorial behaviour and lack of respect for the workers, as the Chaleur region is mostly French-speaking and the proposals from both sides are all in French and the CUPE team is comprised of francophones. In addition, the CRSC appears to have hardened its positions, given the landfill will be operated by scabs, and refuses to even admit that some issues have already been settled.

City of Saint John Outside Workers

In southern New Brunswick, the City of Saint John is intensifying pressure on outside workers using COVID-19 as the rationale. The municipal government bargaining team has been demanding that CUPE Local 18, the city’s outside workers, accept a wage freeze.

NB Media Co-op reports Saint John Mayor Don Darling wrote on his blog on March 19 that given the COVID-19 situation, he will not support any raises with unionized labour. The mayor pompously declared that he will reject any raises, bonuses or barriers in any new agreement with workers and he expects councillors to support his position. The mayor’s anti-worker stance reflects his position as representative of the powerful financial oligarchy in New Brunswick and in particular the owners of the two dominant companies in the city, the Irving Oil refinery and the J.D. Irving pulp and paper company.

CUPE’s Brien Watson told NB Media Co-op that he is very concerned about Mayor Darling’s suggestion that all the municipal workers should have their wages frozen for four years because municipal sector wages have fallen so far behind the rising cost of living.

The workers’ claims are just and these attacks on them must stop. Shame on the Chaleur Regional Service Commission and the Mayor of Saint John. The use of positions of privilege and power to impose self-serving positions is to be condemned. It is totally out of sync with the requirements of the times and in contempt of the culture of respect for working people Canada requires. Only after the needs of the working people are looked after can other problems be sorted out.

(Workers’ Forum, March 27, 2020)


Mobilizing the Human Factor/Social Consciousness in the Fight Against the COVID-19 Pandemic – Workers Speak Up

New Brunswick Public Sector Workers

Workers and their organizations across the country are taking practical measures to mobilize themselves to flatten the curve of the pandemic.

Ten CUPE Locals in New Brunswick, representing 15,000 public sector workers, have collectively presented concrete measures to the provincial government to ensure their members are deployed in a conscious and effective manner to fight the virus and assist the people.

The provincial government has announced the shutdown of all non-essential government services. Only public sector workers doing critical work will remain on the job. The unions have presented and collectively agreed to a plan to redeploy and reassign non-critical public service employees to jobs that will assist the fight against the pandemic.

Simon Ouellette, CUPE Communications Representative, said the union locals have agreed to suspend elements of language in the collective agreement on the mobility of employees. This will ensure rapid response and deployment of public sector employees for reassignment to other work locations during this critical situation.

CUPE members from public sector parts I, II and IV could be reassigned confirmed Ouellette. These include:

Part I

– Local 1190: General Labour and Trades

– Local 1251: Institutional Care and Services

– Local 1840: Court Stenographers

– Local 1418: Rehabilitation and Therapy and Recreation and Culture Program Officers.

Part II

– Local 2745: Educational Support Staff

– Local 1253: NB Council of School District Unions

Part IV

– Local 5017: NB Community Colleges

– Local 5026: Collèges communautaires du N.-B.

– Local 963: NB Liquor Corporation’

– Local 1866: Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission

Ouellette pointed out that union leaders are in close contact with their members in all areas of the public service. “[We] have vital, practical and current information on what goes on at the front lines. We are confident the government will see the importance of having us participate in the response discussions. CUPE members are proud to serve the public and will lead by example in these tough times. Rest assured, this crisis only increases our resolve to fight and win this battle.”

(With files from CUPE New Brunswick)

(Workers’ Forum, March 18, 2020)



Broad opposition and mass actions against the anti-social offensive in New Brunswick

People force government to back down from attacks on health care

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs announced on February 16, the suspension of a series of anti-social measures due to be implemented March 11. The most brutal and life-threatening measure was the permanent overnight closures of the emergency departments of six community hospitals, in Caraquet, Grand Falls, Perth-Andover, Sackville, Sainte-Anne-de-Kent, and Sussex. Residents of these communities needing emergency services from midnight to 8 o’clock in the morning would have to travel 45 minutes or more depending on the weather to bigger centres for services. In addition, 120 acute care beds in these hospitals would be transformed into long term care beds.

Immediately upon learning of these anti-social attacks on their health care, the people of New Brunswick sprung into action. They united as one declaring a definitive No! to the dismantling of their community hospitals and wrecking of emergency services. The mayors of the targeted communities, doctors, nurses, paramedics, and people whose lives have been saved because of immediate access to emergency services, spoke out loudly against this attack on the future of their communities. Instead of wrecking, they demand increased funding for health care services and improvement of the wages and working conditions of the public sector workers so as to guarantee recruitment and retention of health care workers.

Both the PCs currently in power and the Liberals before them have long declared that the mandate of the government of New Brunswick is to limit the wage increases of health care workers and public sector workers to below the cost of living. They currently are waging a war against nursing home workers to deprive them of any legal options to fight for improvement of their wages and working conditions, including strike action if necessary.

Working conditions throughout New Brunswick’s health sector are deteriorating while governments pose the problem as a shortage of health care workers, not the conditions in which they work and deliver the services. Governments advocate an anti-social pay-the-rich economy as the only way to run the province at the expense of the rights and well-being of the people.

Paramedics exposed the fiction of the government that closing emergency departments overnight would be of little consequence to patients because they would just go to the emergency rooms in bigger centres. They wrote:

“Government’s decision to close 6 emergency departments across the province will unnecessarily increase travel time to larger centres. This decision directly affects public safety in the event of an emergency. The major centres are already overcrowded. Having paramedics stuck in hospital hallways with patients waiting for hospital staff is already severely reducing ambulance availabilities for 911 calls. The public will now be forced to commute, in some areas over an hour, to a facility for care. With these longer commutes, the potential for incidents will increase and will further deplete this province’s valuable resources and put public safety at greater risk. Every emergency department and clinic plays a vital role in this province, even more so in rural New Brunswick. As the saying goes, this change will be nothing more than ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ and as history has shown, it never works.

[…]

“The solution for New Brunswick health care should never be the elimination of services! If we truly want to reform health care in New Brunswick, we need to look beyond shutting down emergency services like emergency departments. We need to invest in our people and focus on compensating and recruiting people for the exceptional service they provide everyday while still dealing with the repercussions of past government’s decisions.”

Congratulations to the people of New Brunswick who have shown in practice that they are committed to stepping up their fight against the anti-social offensive in the province. The people demand increased investments in social programs and to stop paying the rich!

People’s actions force New Brunswick premier to retreat

Protest against planned Emergency Room closings, Stella-Maris-de-Kent hospital, February 17, 2020.

During his press conference on February 16, announcing the suspension of his recent anti-social measures to further wreck health care, Premier Higgs blamed a lack of proper communication for the massive opposition that erupted among people of all walks of life. In other words he has not abandoned the wrecking of health care, but will engage in anti-social propaganda in an attempt to destroy public opinion for increased investments in social programs and to stop paying the rich.

The Premier announced he will visit the communities targeted for closure of their emergency departments in April and May. He committed to a provincial health-care summit in June that will have, in his words, the “goal of developing a strategy to ensure a sustainable and reliable public health care system for the future.” The findings from the consultations and the summit will be released this fall.

The Premier warned the people that the same irrational anti-social arguments, which led to the proposed wrecking measures, would guide the consultations and the summit. Higgs said, “An aging demographic coupled with a growing labour force shortage is hampering our ability to provide the right care, in the right place, at the right time. But we need people in this province to be part of the solution and that must start with hearing from the people most impacted.”

People are having nothing of the pathetic arguments of the premier

Immediately following the Premier’s announcement of an anti-social propaganda tour and summit, people in the six targeted communities organized mass demonstrations to demand an end to the anti-social restructuring of health care, not its postponement. People wore signs reading “Health Care Cuts Kill!” and chanted “rural lives matter.” They spoke of the need for a new direction for their rural communities where the poverty level is high, wages and working conditions are deteriorating and local populations are indeed aging as young people leave in search of a better life. The communities need comprehensive health care services, including 24/7 emergency care and seniors’ care. Improvements must not take away from acute hospital care, as the premier proposed, but be seen as wide-ranging increased investments in social programs and public services to guarantee the rights and well-being of the people.

The people expressed pride and relief that their organized actions led to the suspension of the closures of their emergency services and vowed to continue speaking out for a pro-social humane solution to the crisis in health care.

(Workers’ Forum, February 25, 2020)

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