A fifth union in New Brunswick says talks with the province have reached an impasse.
CUPE Local 2745, representing a slate of education and clerical staff in the province, joins Locals 1190, 5017, 1418 and 1251 in filing for a deadlock.
“We sent a letter to the New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board this morning and I have absolutely no doubt they’ll recognize that we’re deadlocked,” says Theresa McAllister, president of CUPE Local 2745.
The union’s membership includes education assistants, school administrative assistants, library workers, speech therapy assistants and more, all of whom have been without a contract since February 2018.
McAllister says that’s not for lack of trying.
“Many times we met with government negotiators,” she said at a virtual press conference Tuesday morning, “but every time they found a reason to stall.”
“For a while, it was minority government, then it was an election, then it was the pandemic and a continual change of negotiator,” McAllister says.
On the wish list for the new contract, Local 2745 is asking to have at least one full-time school administrative assistant in each school.
“This would provide for consistency in communications with parents, entry to the school and a single point of contact for staff,” McAllister explains.
They’re also asking for a wage increase to boost casual employee pay to the same level as permanent employees – something made impossible by the Higgs government’s wage freeze mandated in the fall.
Sandy Harding, CUPE Regional Director – Maritimes, is not happy about that roadblock.
“During the midst of a pandemic he holds an election, he then gets a majority and one of the premier things that he did was say: ‘guess what public service workers? You’ve worked hard during this pandemic and thank you for keeping our systems together and guess what? For that work during the pandemic we’re going to freeze your wages,’” Harding says.
She speculates that all five unions who have become deadlocked – which amounts to more than 8,000 workers in the province without a contract – can blame the premier.
“I think the premier really, truly does not respect the public service,” she says. “He certainly, certainly does not respect the leadership. He’s made that painfully obvious.”
When asked about another deadlocked negotiation, Premier Higgs saying a new approach needs to be taken.
“We just can’t keep having the same discussion,” he says, “and it’s all about wages.”
“To have the same old discussions about ‘give me more and I’ll do better.’ It’s like, how do we do better that will support the investment in more?”
CUPE representatives speculate the province is content to keep talks deadlocked, at arm’s length of strikes.
None of the five deadlocked unions have reached the point of a strike vote, but McAllister says she and her members are ready for whatever comes next.