“I hope the premier gets the message. This province cannot run without the public service essential workers that are putting their lives on the line everyday,” said Pat Lekas, zone shop steward for CUPE Local 2745, which represents school staff including educational assistants, library workers and payroll clerks.
Schools in Sackville were closed today because of the strike.
Lekas, who works as an educational assistant at Tantramar Regional High School, says CUPE members are fighting for decent wages.
“We haven’t had a raise in four years,” she says. “We’re the working poor, we’re the lowest-paid public servants across the country.”
She adds that inflation has eaten away at CUPE members’ wages.
“Wages are a real, big deal,” she says, “and we’re not asking for the world, we’re only asking for the cost of living.”
According to CUPE’s website, the union wants a 3% raise in each year of a four-year collective agreement, while the province is offering 2% per year in a five-year contract.
CUPE also says wages have been stagnant over the last 12 years for the 22,000 workers in 10 locals which are in a legal strike position. Seven of those locals are on strike today.
Pat Lekas says members from three locals are picketing today in Sackville including ones representing school bus drivers, custodians and prison guards.
“We’re all working as a collective unit to bring change and fair wages, not just to CUPE members, but to all workers in New Brunswick,” she says, adding that better pay for government workers could serve as a benchmark for others.
“The money that Higgs will eventually have to pay us goes right back into our communities, which supports all the families in our communities, all the businesses in our communities,” she says.
“So we want those other workers, who are not yet unionized, to get fair wages too.”