FREDERICTON (GNB) – Premier Blaine Higgs has expressed disappointment with contract talks with Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) bargaining units.

Government officials were at the negotiating table this week with CUPE in hopes of securing a negotiated wage settlement that is fair for all parties, including New Brunswick taxpayers.

“Our preference is always to reach a negotiated settlement,” said Higgs. “The government has shown flexibility in negotiations with the CUPE bargaining team. We are now offering a six-year term with annual wage increases of 1.25 per cent in the first four years, up from one per cent in our original offer, as well as annual increases of two per cent in each of the last two years. The government remains committed to working with unions to determine an appropriate level of compensation that is fair to both employees and taxpayers.”

The government offer also includes:

  • Adjusting the rates of pay for casual workers with less than six months of service from 80 per cent of the regular job rate to 100 per cent.
  • An additional 2.5 per cent wage increase in exchange for ending the retirement allowance. Employees would not lose their retirement allowance benefit accrued to date.
  • Considering additional wage adjustments for specific jobs where there is a significant wage difference compared to competing employers and recruitment and retention difficulties.
  • Converting the two pension plans for CUPE members working in school districts to the shared-risk model to make them sustainable and affordable and to increase the security of pension benefits. This conversion would also make part-time employees, such as the more than 2,500 education assistants, eligible to participate in the pension plan, which they are not now.
  • Removing about 100 unionized workers with managerial responsibilities from the bargaining units. This would require the appropriate compensation and job security provisions to ensure these positions are adequately protected and not subject to arbitrary actions.
  • A proposal to establish joint employer-union working groups across the civil service, school districts and the health-care system to collaboratively identify and implement opportunities to improve workplace safety, effectiveness, productivity and to optimize public access to government services and facilities.

The total cost of this offer would be about $71 million annually.

“During negotiations CUPE did not move off its wage demands of five per cent per year and was planning strike votes for next week while we were at the table this week,” said Higgs. “The union had the opportunity to engage in meaningful negotiations but chose not to on all subjects, which is very disappointing.”

CUPE has requested wage increases of 20 per cent over four years, which would result in an additional annual cost of about $158 million.

“New Brunswick is not immune to the economic challenges brought on by the pandemic,” said Higgs. “New Brunswick has fared well so far but there is still uncertainty with COVID-19 and its variants. We must remain prudent, responsible and realistic about the wage package we offer, and I believe we have been.”

Contingency plans are in place should the union receive a strike mandate and exercise its right to strike. In the event of a strike, there are workers who are designated as essential in all CUPE units to ensure the health and safety of the public.

Central negotiations were held for CUPE locals 1840, 1190, 1418, 1251, 2745, 1253 and 1252. These bargaining units represent nearly 20,000 employees in the civil service, in schools, and in the health-care system.