Province strikes 3 tentative agreements with unions days before election call

·4 min read
Heather Gillis/CBC
Heather Gillis/CBC

In the days before calling the general election on Friday, the Liberal provincial government struck tentative collective agreements with three unions — Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association (NLTA) and Allied Health Professionals — extending their contracts into 2022.

The government also issued 34 news releases in total on Thursday and Friday, committing to more than $31 million in pre-election spending on Friday alone.

CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador president Sherry Hillier says her union had been bargaining with government throughout the summer and fall, but she says they weren't making headway.

"And then government came back to us two weeks ago and offered us this deal that we've tentatively accepted," Hillier said.

"It's all a tactics game when it comes to an election for sure, there's no doubt in my mind that's exactly why the deal was made days before the election."

Still, Hillier calls it a good agreement for 3,700 of her members working in seven different sectors, such as health care, education, libraries and transition houses.

She can't talk specifics, but said the deal extends their current collective agreement to March 31, 2022 and includes a wage increase and changes to post-employment benefits for new employees.

"We're pleased that our bargaining committees actually accepted the tentative deal and we're actually bringing it back to our membership for full ratification vote in the course of the next 10 days." she said.

Questions about Greene report

Meanwhile, Hillier is questioning why Liberal Leader Andrew Furey called a provincial election before releasing Moya Greene's economy recovery report, which will review spending, revenue, and public services and options for economic growth.

"Obviously, the president of the Federation of Labour, Mary Shortall, resigned from the committee, speaks volumes, when a committee, a task force is so secretive." she said.

"Then a draft report [will] be released, but 10 days after the election date, why not give Newfoundland and Labradorians the opportunity to see what's in this report before Feb. 13?"

Sherry Vivian/CBC
Sherry Vivian/CBC

While Furey promised to table Greene's report in the House of Assembly and hold consultations, Hillier, who meet with Greene last week, says that's not enough and is calling for more transparency.

"We don't need privatization in our province right now," she said.

"Newfoundland and Labradorians do not need this. We're in the middle of a pandemic. We are doing our part during the pandemic. We certainly don't need an austerity budget. I'm sure the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are only too willing to work with government, and secrecy is not the way of doing it."

NLTA less critical of timing

Meanwhile, teachers, who also struck a tentative agreement with the province last week, were less critical of the timing of the tentative agreements with government.

NLTA president, Dean Ingram, says their negotiating team and provincial executive felt the tentative agreement should be brought to a ratification vote in early February.

"And our membership ultimately will decide whether it's something that is or is not acceptable," he said by phone Sunday.

Sherry Vivian/CBC
Sherry Vivian/CBC

Ingram also can't say whether they will recommend that members accept the tentative deal, until after their branch presidents meet later this month.

The tentative agreement, which affects 7,000 members of the NLTA, includes a salary increase and changes to post-employment benefits for new employees. If ratified, it would extend teachers' current collective agreement to Aug. 31, 2022.

Meanwhile, he says any plan in the province for economic recovery must include investments in education.

"We do believe that there are many needs in education and we have been pressing for a number of years that it's critically important that an independent review of the teacher allocation model, the allocation of resources for schools need to be undertaken," Ingram said.

"Education is too valuable for it not to be done."

Allied Health Professionals also struck a tentative deal with the province, which includes a salary increase and changes to post-employment benefits for new employers. If ratified, the deal would extend their current collective agreement to June 30, 2022, and would affect 750 healthcare workers.

The union didn't respond to CBC News request for comment on Sunday.

Day 2 of election campaign

Only two party leaders were on the campaign trail Sunday on the second official day of campaigning.

PC Leader Ches Crosbie spent the day knocking on doors in Mount Scio with his candidate, Damian Follett. The party also announced it had nominated a full slate of candidates in each of the province's 40 electoral districts.

NDP leader Alison Coffin spent the day canvassing in her district St. John's East - Quidi Vidi. That party has 20 candidates nominated to run in the general election, so far.

Meanwhile, Sundays are family days for Liberal Leader Andrew Furey, who has committed to holding media availabilities in the mornings Monday through Saturday. The Liberals have 38 candidates nominated as of Sunday afternoon.

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