About 150 union supporters rallied outside Sackville Town Hall last night and then crowded into the council chamber to support members of CUPE local 1188 which represents the town’s 35 inside and outside workers. The workers have been without a contract since December 31, 2015 and negotiations are now at a standstill.
A provincially appointed conciliator has informed both sides he will be submitting his report to the provincial minister of labour today (April 11th) starting the clock on a process that could see a strike or lockout within about two to four weeks.
Union negotiator Marcos Salib says there is only one issue left to be resolved, seniority rights for part-time, temporary or contract workers applying for full-time positions.
He says about 600 supporters have sent letters to the mayor and council asking why the town is refusing to budge on a seniority rights clause in its “final offer” submitted in February. According to the letters, Article 13.4 reads:
Notwithstanding any other article in this agreement, non-full-time employees shall be entitled to apply for an internally posted full-time position but will be considered for the position based on personal merits only and will not be provided preferential consideration because of union membership and/or seniority.
Salib says the town is proposing that the provision apply to all new hires after January 1, 2017.
Mayor faces questions
During a 15-minute question period at the start of the council meeting, union supporters peppered Mayor Higham with questions about why the town’s negotiators were refusing to return to the bargaining table to discuss the seniority rights proposal.
“We agreed to go back to the table to discuss the whole final offer and the union said no, we will only discuss one item,” the mayor answered. Higham also said the union’s version of the wording in the final offer is not correct, but he refused to give further details on the grounds that it wouldn’t be appropriate for the town to negotiate in public.
When pressed repeatedly on the issue of seniority, the mayor said:
“The principle of seniority is well established, it’s a key point in our relationship with our staff, we understand it, we get it. It is just simply not a matter for us to attack. The real thing that has been offered is in the final offer and we really hope our staff get an opportunity to see it at some point soon.”
“We’ve got your back”
Earlier, at the rally outside the building, Patrick Colford, President of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, told members of local 1188 that seniority rights are the cornerstone and Holy Grail of the labour movement which has nearly 41,000 members in the province.
“We have a municipal government here who has chosen to take on the labour movement,” Colford said. “They might think that they just took on a small local here in Sackville. “Foolish, foolish,” he added. “We’ve got your back.”