Correctional, border workers reach deadlock in negotiation with province

·4 min read
CUPE Local 1251, the union representing 800 correctional officers, human services, laundry and custodial workers, has filed a notice of deadlock in negotiations with the province. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC - image credit)
CUPE Local 1251, the union representing 800 correctional officers, human services, laundry and custodial workers, has filed a notice of deadlock in negotiations with the province. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC - image credit)

While the province tightens inter-provincial travel restrictions, the workers checking people's travel registration and hotel bookings at the borders could be heading out on strike.

CUPE Local 1251, the union representing 800 correctional officers, human services, laundry and custodial workers has filed a notice of deadlock in negotiations with the province.

At a news conference Tuesday, lead negotiator Mike Davidson said the next step is either both sides agree on binding arbitration, or the workers have a strike vote.

"There's no more negotiations happening, there's just no more discussions happening," Davidson said.

He said some of their members have been working outside their scope at borders and airports, performing COVID-19 screening.

We're greatly concerned that there seems to be a lot of contempt coming from this government, instead of sitting down and trying to work things out. - Steve Drost, CUPE New Brunswick

He said the union will be contacting Premier Blaine Higgs directly to see if a solution can be found.

"We got to go to the decision maker. … Ultimately, we're hoping he doesn't force a strike on New Brunswickers," he said.

Davidson said the vote could happen as early as next week.

At issue is pay. The workers have been without a contract for four years, Davidson said, and the cost of living has increase by eight per cent.

Wages not following inflation

"Obviously, eight per cent [increase] is the bare minimum to keep up with the cost of living or else everybody's purchasing power is getting rolled back on them," Davidson said.

In December 2020, Higgs announced he will be trying to impose a one-year wage freeze of all unionized public workers, after imposing that freeze on non-unionized workers.

Higgs wanted unionized workers to accept no raise in one year of the new four-year contract and a one per cent increase in each of the other three years. He said this is a necessary step to deal with the fiscal pressure caused by COVID-19.

At the COVID-19 briefing Tuesday, Higgs said he was not aware of the negotiation issue. He said the province "kept everyone employed" through the pandemic, and he's hopeful an agreement can be reached.

"I'm not familiar with this particular situation ... But I'm looking forward to a relationship where we all rebuild New Brunswick together," he said.

Premier Blaine Higgs said Tuesday he's hopeful the relationship between CUPE and the province can remain intact.
Premier Blaine Higgs said Tuesday he's hopeful the relationship between CUPE and the province can remain intact.(Government of New Brunswick)

Provincial spokesperson Jennifer Vienneau said the province and CUPE can "collaborate to find savings" that would fund a wage increase but still allow the province to recover from COVID-19 and not raise taxes or reduce services.

"Should there be a strike, impacted departments will have a contingency plan in place to minimize disruptions and delays to residents," she said.

Should there be a strike, impacted departments will have a contingency plan in place to minimize disruptions and delays to residents.

Steve Drost, president of New Brunswick CUPE, was present at the news conference, and said CUPE is not the only union concerned with this plan.

"We're greatly concerned that there seems to be a lot of contempt coming from this government, instead of sitting down and trying to work things out," he said. "That's just not how you treat your employees."

Davidson said deadlocks have been declared with three other CUPE locals in the last two years, totalling 3,500 workers affected.

Casual worker 'exploitation'

The union is also asking the province to hire more people instead of relying on casuals for 10 to 12 years in one position, which Davidson called "exploitation."

He said the union wants to add language to the collective agreement to avoid the more than 100 vacant positions being filled by casuals and temporary workers, and have those casuals and others hired to fill the positions permanently

"Can you imagine you have tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, and you're only working in a casual position for an excess of five years, don't know whether you've got a position today or tomorrow," Davidson said.