Hundreds of workers in the public sector in New Brunswick have voted to go on strike by the end of the month if the province doesn't meet their wage demands.
Court stenographers and staff at New Brunswick Community College and WorkSafeNB who are represented by CUPE all adopted strike mandates after votes concluded over the weekend.
"These members are sending a strong message, and it's foreshadowing what is to come," Steve Drost, the president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees for New Brunswick, said in a statement. "It is also a scathing review of the government's inability to recognize front-line workers."
Drost said workers have gone through decades of little or no wage increases while also suffering the impact of a recruitment and employee-retention crisis.
"Front-line workers have endured so much with so little support, and it's clear that they are ready to strike if needed, so the government takes them seriously," he said.
The results according to each local are:
Local 1840 (court stenographers), with 96 per cent voting in favour, and 96 per cent of members participating.
Local 1866 (WorkSafeNB staff), with 83 per cent voting in favour, and 88 per cent of members participating.
Local 5017 (NBCC staff), with 93 per cent voting in favour, and 100 per cent of members participating.
The three locals represent 300 workers in all.
The province has since issued a complaint of unfair labour practices and bad faith bargaining against the union, alleging one CUPE local has been distributing a poster with false claims about management's offer.
Workers in seven other CUPE locals are expected to take part in strike votes between now and the end of the month, with votes among health-care workers ending on Sept. 25.
They include over 22,000 workers in the education, transportation and agricultural sectors, as well as social workers, jail guards, and staff at N.B. Liquor. Their contracts expired between 2016 and 2019.
Province fires back with complaint of bad faith bargaining
The province is complaining its offer was misrepresented in a CUPE local poster.
The local involved is Local 1190, which represents over 1,500 workers, including tradespeople and repair workers under the departments of transportation and infrastructure, and tourism, heritage and culture, as well as the Crown corporation Service New Brunswick.
"We received evidence that CUPE Local 1190 has posted signs in workplaces that misrepresent the province's offer in an effort to encourage their members to vote in favour of a strike," Premier Blaine Higgs said in a statement Thursday.
"This is very disappointing and appears to indicate CUPE is more interested in going on strike than it is in making a reasonable and good-faith effort to conclude a collective agreement."
The poster, written in French, urges workers to support a strike if they think casual employees deserve "to be paid more than 80 per cent of the job rate" and "if they feel a wage increase of zero per cent for the first six months and 0.5 per cent every six month thereafter."
The current offer by the province for casual workers actually includes a pay raise, "with less than six consecutive months of service from 80 per cent to 100 per cent of the regular job rate," the province said.
"The offer also includes wage increases, starting on the first day of a contract — not six months later — of 0.625 per cent every six months, rather than 0.5 per cent, during the first four years; and wage increases of one per cent every six months during the last two years of a six-year term."
The president of the local said the province's allegations are false.
"The centralized bargaining committee team members have sent all bargaining documents and offers [issued by the province] to its members," Brent Wiggins said in a statement.
The poster the province was complaining about is an old notice to members from 2019, he said.
"After CUPE filed a bad faith bargaining complaint against Higgs' actions last week, they are replying with one of their own, which in our opinion has little to no value," Wiggins added.
The union filed the accusation against the province at the labour board last week after claiming the premier didn't keep his promise to only discuss wages at the bargaining table with the locals currently pursuing strike votes.
In their complaint to the labour board, the union said it had reached an agreement to only discuss wages after the premier's request to do so on Aug. 17. All other issues were to be negotiated with the individual locals at a later date, according to the union.
However, the premier brought up offers for retirement allowances and pension changes, among other things, when bargaining resumed in early September, they said.
The talks later broke down on Sept. 3 when an agreement over wages couldn't be reached and the province left the room.
The union is asking for a five per cent annual wage increases over the next four years.
The province's most recent offer was for annual increases of 1.25 per cent over four years, then two per cent in the fifth and sixth years.