New Brunswick public sector workers ratify five-year contract after 16-day strike

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FREDERICTON — More than 20,000 members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees in New Brunswick officially ratified a contract deal Friday, following a 16-day strike that paralyzed the province's public school system.

Union leaders confirmed that 10 of the 11 locals involved in the labour dispute had accepted a tentative deal reached last Saturday.

The CUPE local that represents school bus drivers, school custodians and maintenance workers, however, voted against the offer because of a dispute over pensions. That means they will return to the bargaining table. Iris Lloyd, president of Local 1253, said members of the local will not resume strike action.

The five-year agreement includes a two per cent raise per year and a 25-cent-per-hour wage increase in each year, and significant wage increases for casual workers.

"The general wage package was certainly better than what we've seen in years," union president Steve Drost told a news conference at the Fredericton Inn. "But I'm going to let governments know: this is just the beginning. People understand their worth."

Drost said it's the first time the union has secured a fair wage increase in at least 15 years. Still, he lashed out at the province's Progressive Conservative government, saying its drive for austerity was hurting New Brunswick.

"This has been an extremely difficult journey, and I believe it should have never gotten to this level," he said. "I think government should have been much fairer to front-line workers … and should have never, ever forced (union members) out into the streets."

Premier Blaine Higgs issued a brief statement Friday saying the ratified agreements represent a fair deal for unionized employees and taxpayers.

"We were able to balance the needs at both sides of the table to find a solution that includes substantial wage increases for all bargaining groups," Higgs said.

Public schools across the province reopened Monday after the tentative agreement was reached. Among those who went on strike were workers in education, health, transportation, infrastructure and employees at community colleges.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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