St. Stephen brokers five-year deal with staff union

By Andrew Bates Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

(Submitted photo) Council for the Municipal District of St. Stephen includes, from left, Earle Eastman, Ghislaine Wheaton, David Hyslop, Brian Cornish, Mayor Allan MacEachern, Joyce Wright, Marg Harding, Emily Rodas and Wade Greenlaw.

ST. STEPHEN – The Municipal District of St. Stephen has reached a new five-year deal with the union that represents its employees.

The new collective bargaining agreement with CUPE 770 covers 2023 to 2027, according to council documents. At its recent meeting, CAO Jeff Renaud announced the deal and “five years … of labour peace.”

“We reached it, and everyone’s pretty happy with it, and it’s a five-year term, which is nice too, so you can put that away and work on other stuff,” said Mayor Allan MacEachern.

The new deal moves some temporary employees to full time with benefits and features a five per cent increase in 2023, with 2.75 per cent increases for 2024 through 2026 and 2.85 per cent in 2027, according to an email from Renaud.

“The deal’s a good deal, we were able to … move some casual positions to permanent positions,” said Ralph McBride, CUPE national representative for CUPE 770. “The wage package is not that bad. The first year we were able to stay close to what the inflation rate was and then the next four years, the group felt comfortable.”

The deal was bargained through meetings in June and July and presented to council during a closed meeting Aug. 3. At the recent meeting, Renaud thanked both negotiating teams for working co-operatively.

“In a sign of the modern times, we did a fair bit of work on Zoom calls, I was negotiating from Halifax at one point,” Renaud said. “But we were able to work with the technology to our advantage and we came out with a very positive deal that both sides were able to support, so that’s good news.”

Speaking the morning after the council meeting, McBride said the union viewed the hybrid presentation, with two people remote and one in-person at one meeting, as “not a respectful way to negotiate a contract.”

He said that while the union leadership understood a negotiator for the municipality who lived in Ontario may need to telecommute, they expected that the other town representatives would be present.

“We’re happy to reach a deal, we’re not happy about the process,” he said. “It’s still a healthy relationship, it’s just the fact that bargaining next time won’t happen that way. The union just said they will not do that.”

Reached by email, Renaud said scheduling during the summer months is “very difficult,” and senior negotiators for the municipality agreed “to allow these negotiations to interrupt previously scheduled personal commitments” to reach a deal, and that teleconferencing allowed them to be present.

“The respect that we have for (our) valued employees represented by CUPE 770 was demonstrated in the lengths to which management was willing to go in order to complete these negotiations as expeditiously as possible,” he wrote.