New Brunswick: Public sector workers give strong strike vote

St. John meeting during strike vote on September 22, 2021

In its September 22 bulletin, the Canadian Union of Public Employees New Brunswick (CUPE NB) reports that seven of its 10 locals engaged in efforts to renew their collective agreements, some of which expired as long as four years ago, have been given strong strike votes. Workers are currently engaged in centralized bargaining with the government for wages that they consider acceptable and that will assist in addressing the problem of attracting and retaining workers in public services. The issue of working conditions must be resolved through negotiations with the locals.

CUPE NB reports that votes in favour of strike action hover around the 90 per cent range, with high voter turnout. For example, court stenographers voted 96 per cent in favour of a strike, with a 96 per cent voter turnout; community college workers voted 93 per cent in favour of a strike with a 100 per cent member turnout, while WorkSafe NB employees voted 83 per cent for a strike and had a voter turnout of 88 per cent.

As of September 22, approximately 9,400 of its 22,000 membership had held their strike votes.

Local 1252, the largest local representing close to 11,000 health care workers, held its strike vote from September 23-25, with the votes to be counted today, September 27. The last two locals, representing approximately 1,800 workers, will soon be posting their voting dates.

CUPE NB President Stephen Drost told Workers’ Forum that the vote shows that workers are determined to stand up for their rights and get wages that they deem acceptable.

“Our fight is not just for us, but for public services and for the people of New Brunswick overall,” he said.

New Brunswick is now experiencing its fourth COVID-19 wave, with an increase in cases and hospitalizations, in particular in  intensive care units. Workers are making tremendous efforts to cope with the situation and are doing so within a context where their dignity and conditions are under attack by the provincial government.

Adding insult to injury, the New Brunswick government recently filed an unfair labour practice and bad-faith bargaining complaint against the union, alleging that a CUPE local had distributed a poster with false claims about management’s offer.

“This is very disappointing and appears to indicate CUPE is more interested in going on strike than it is in making a reasonable and good-faith effort to conclude a collective agreement,” the complaint alleges.

The union is refuting the government’s claims as factually false and ill-intentioned.

Through its assertions on bargaining, the government is denying that for over 15 years successive governments in New Brunswick have been imposing a wage-suppression mandate on public sector workers that has impoverished workers and exacerbated problems in public services. The government has also gone so far as to introduce demands for concessions, notably with regard to pensions, within a centralized bargaining process that was supposed to deal solely with wages. The government also refuses to acknowledge the problems of retention and recruitment that exist in public services, which are driving a good many public service workers out of the province in search of better conditions. Its view of workers as being disposable and the carte blanche it seeks for further privatization of services poses a serious problem for the people of the province.

It is the workers who are defending the well-being and rights of all. They deserve everyone’s full support.

(Photos: WF, S.Harding)

Workers’ Forum • September 27, 2021 – No. 88

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Filed under Canada, Working Class

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