Ferry service back up after CUPE strike causes service suspensions

·3 min read

New Brunswick's transportation department plans to keep its three busiest ferries up and running during the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) strike, according to a department official.

Ferry service was suspended over the weekend after CUPE launched strike action on Friday, but ferries at Westfield, Gondola Point and Evandale were operating again by Monday morning.

Mark Taylor, spokesperson with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, said ferry service in the greater Saint John region was suspended over the weekend after some designated employees decided to walk out, but the department worked to restore the service to the three major crossings in time for commuters on Monday morning.

"Our intention going forward, at the very least, is to keep these three ferries operational because we know how important ferry service is to the travelling public," Taylor said. "We want to make sure we keep these three major ferry routes operational because they see a significant amount of traffic, and they actually account for a majority of the river ferry traffic."

Other ferries, such as the Belleisle Bay service and the Summerville-Millidgeville ferry, are still grounded because of the strike, said Taylor. He added coastal ferries haven't been impacted because they are operated by a private company.

Lisa Wiggins, who runs Reeds Point Pub and Grill near the Gondola Point ferry stop in Kingston, said business at the pub slowed to a crawl over the weekend, with no service across the Kennebecasis River.

"Our business was pretty much halved," said Wiggins, adding now that the ferry is running again, she isn't concerned. "If the ferries stay up and running, we should be fine."

Clifton Royal resident Greg Rekounas caught the Gondola Point ferry on Monday afternoon. He said if the ferry remained closed throughout the strike, it would result in wasted time and money for his entire family who takes the ferry every day.

"I totally support what they've asked for so if they do pull them, it's going to be an inconvenience for us, but we're going to support them any way we can," he said of the CUPE employees. "But it would be a financial burden the longer it goes on."

On Friday, CUPE launched strike action, a move affecting 20,000 public sector workers in the 10 CUPE locals. The provincial government's last offer at the negotiation table was a 10 per cent raise over five years for CUPE workers. But the union turned it down, countering with a 12 per cent increase over four years.

At a press conference Friday, Premier Blaine Higgs said the government is looking at options to deal with the strike, including possible legislation.

"CUPE's actions show that their primary focus is on disruption," Higgs said. "This is not a time to deprive New Brunswickers of essential services."

The Telegraph-Journal reached out to Simon Ouellette, communications representative for CUPE, and Kings Centre MLA Bill Oliver for comment, but it did not hear back as of press time Monday.

Ongoing ferry service delays are to be expected throughout the strike, reads a media release from the province. Motorists can check for updates by calling 511 or checking the NB511 Twitter page and the NB511 website.

- With files from Sean Mott

Robin Grant, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal

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