Province and CUPE in stalemate over pensions

NEW BRUNSWICK – In a live press conference on Saturday, Nov. 6, CUPE Local 1252 President Norma Robertson said those mandated back to work were met with “complete chaos within the organizations”.

“There has been no communication to the RHA’s (Regional Health Authorities), and we’ve had it communicated that they are scrambling today to figure out who was supposed to be in the workplace.

“We’ve had reports from the people on the inside of the health care facilities that it is not as bad as what it was reported by the government.”

CUPE leaders indicated they had not received a response to the counter offer it had provided the government in the wee hours of Saturday morning.  The offer, which impacts CUPE Locals 1190, 1251, 1840, 1253, 1418, 2745, and 1252, would see those locals receive a 10 per cent wage increase over five years at 2 per cent per year, and the offer also makes clear discussions around pensions are off the table.

“The parties agree to withdraw all other outstanding items at the separate tables for the seven CUPE bargaining units including the pensions,” states the offer.

“All employees will return to work effective immediately (or as soon as possible) and the centralized bargaining team will recommend this offer.”

The counter-offer also provides casual positions would be adjusted to 100 per cent of the regular rate of pay for that job classification.

“After our update Friday afternoon, I really hoped that government and CUPE leadership would come to a resolution,” said Higgs in a Zoom press briefing on Monday, Nov. 8.

“But that has not happened.”

Higgs said the offer made to CUPE on Thursday was a “fair and reasonable offer”, and he said it should have been brought to all CUPE members.

The GNB offer provides wage increases of 15 per cent over five years which is retroactive as several of the bargaining units have been without a contract for a significant period.  Based on the retroactive nature, each employee would receive an average of $7,000 in back pay.  In a list provided by GNB Monday, some positions are shown to receive just above $5,000 and others as much as $25,000.  This list will be published on our website at www.stcroixcourier.ca

Higgs said there has been “confusion” and “misinformation” regarding pensions.  He said the shared risk plan GNB is offering is the same plan MLA’s have been using since 2014, and “it works for everyone”.

“Any path forward would see the plans fully funded to start the process,” said Higgs, “because right now, they are significantly underfunded.”

Higgs also said the change in pension would “not have an impact on existing pension plans”, of the five locals not included in the pension discussion.  Only the two education based locals, 1253 and 2745, are included in pension discussions.

A GNB press release Monday said the following conditions would need to be met with regard to pension discussions:

  • Revise the pension plan’s eligibility criteria to improve access for part-time workers.
  • The pension plan must be sustainable, affordable and secure for plan members and the government.
  • Contribution rates must be fair and equitable for plan members and the government.

In a letter to Higgs and cabinet shared on social media Tuesday, Nov. 9, the CUPE centralized bargaining team said the package offered by GNB on Thursday, Nov. 4 showed “wages clearly remained contingent on Local 2745 and Local 1253 signing a memorandum of agreement on pension reform,” and the CUPE counter offer, eliminating pensions from discussion and a lower wage increase, was delivered in the early morning of Friday.

“Furthermore, in the last package, the wage offer was contingent to the locals agreeing to remove all outstanding items that remained on the bargaining tables.  In our opinion, that would include the pension plans for Local 1253 and Local 2745, as they are also outstanding items.

“We ask that you respond to the Centralized Bargaining Team’s package that you received on November 5, 2021 or return to the bargaining table to resolve the wage package.

“The sooner this can happen, the sooner the frontline workers can return to work to provide frontline services for all New Brunswickers.”

Higgs said if the CUPE is not willing to look at pensions “we are in for a long haul here”.

editor@stcroixcourier.ca