Three visiting labour leaders joined the CUPE picket line today in Sackville to show support for the 22,000 public sector workers across New Brunswick who went on strike last Friday.
Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union (CFNU), said it was important to show support because CUPE is striking to protect public services and the right to free collective bargaining at a time when nurses themselves are facing a crisis because of chronic staffing shortages.
“We’re seeing an anger, a frustration with over 60% of nurses wanting to change jobs, 25% wanting to leave nursing,” she said, “and this crisis has built up in New Brunswick with two tentative agreements being overwhelmingly rejected by the members,” Silas added.
Danny Légère, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour (NBFL), said public sector workers have been neglected for too long by a series of provincial governments.
“Wages in the public sector, not just CUPE but all the public sector in New Brunswick, haven’t kept up with inflation, so workers have been falling further and further behind,” he said.
“Workers are tired, they’re burnt out, in some instances they’re working two and three jobs, using the food banks and they’re just saying, ‘Enough’s enough’ and this CUPE strike is about that neglect of the public sector,” Légère added.
George Leaman of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union (BCTGM) said no one wants to be on strike, but CUPE has to stand up just as workers did in 1992 when the McKenna government tried to impose wage freezes on public sector workers.
“This goes back to McKenna and back to ’92 and I don’t mind saying this,” Leaman added, “governments haven’t done anything for the working class as much as they have for the Irvings and the big companies.”
Danny Légère pointed to the five-cent increase in the minimum wage last April as part of a deliberate Higgs government policy.
“I think there’s an attempt to keep a low-wage economy in order for businesses and corporations to maximize profits when they come set up shop in New Brunswick,” he said.
Province uses emergency powers
The three labour leaders spoke hours before the New Brunswick government announced it is using its emergency COVID-19 powers to force all striking CUPE health-care workers to return to their regular shifts beginning at midnight.
Premier Higgs told a news conference in Fredericton that the mandatory order would apply only to health-care workers and not to other striking CUPE workers such as school staff and prison guards.
Higgs said the measure was necessary to protect the health and safety of hospital patients.
He spoke after the the CEOs of the Horizon and Vitalité Health Networks told reporters that the health system is in crisis partly because the CUPE strike has forced the cancellation of hundreds of surgeries as well as thousands of tests and medical procedures.
To read the latest government news release announcing the mandatory order, click here.