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N.B. schools closed as staff, trade workers walk off the job

N.B. schools closed as staff, trade workers walk off the job

School buses are off the road and all schools in New Brunswick are closed Friday as some workers began strike action.

They include, among others, school custodians, bus drivers, educational assistants (EAs) and library workers.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents about 22,000 workers who are in a legal strike position, said a strike was “imminent” after talks broke down with the province this week over wage increases.

CUPE New Brunswick president Stephen Drost said Friday unionized workers from seven locals have started picketing at various locations throughout the province. 

Drost said they are picketing in high-traffic areas in most communities in the province, but not at any schools or government buildings.

CUPE members on strike in Moncton on Friday morning. (Patrick Lacelle/Radio-Canada)

Minister of Education Dominic Cardy said parents are scrambling this morning because CUPE did not notify the government properly. Drost said the union sent notice to the minister of education at 11:39 p.m. on Thursday.

“We gave them advanced notice last night,” he told Information Morning Moncton.

He said the union did not put out a public notice Thursday night because it’s the province’s responsibility.

Cardy said the province will be providing an update by 5 p.m. Saturday at the latest about the plan for next week.

“We know the buses are for sure off. We’re not sure of how many other schools are impacted by custodians and EAs who are not coming in,” he told Information Morning Saint John.

“Any schools where the EAs or custodians did not come in … those schools will be online as of Monday.”

Strike likely continuing into next week

Drost said the strike will “most likely” extend to Monday.

“I can’t confirm any of the details of the plan. I’m not given that permission. We have 10 locals. They have their autonomy.” 

Drost said parents who are frustrated by the strike should keep in mind the striking workers are also parents.

“They get it. They, too, are extremely tired and anxious and have had to work through this entire pandemic,” he said. 

Some of the locals involved and some of their workers include:

  • Local 1190: Provincial park workers, road crews, plow drivers and mechanics.
  • Local 1253: School district custodians, maintenance workers and bus drivers. 
  • Local 2745: Educational support staff such as educational assistants, administrative assistants, school intervention workers, student attendants and library workers.
  • Local 1418: Social workers, probation and parole officers, human resource development officers, correctional programmers, clinical psychologists, recreation and culture program officers.
  • Local 5017: Community colleges.

School districts have advised parents to keep students home today while staff report to school.

Cardy previously sent a letter asking parents to keep an eye on their email in case they have to pick up their children in the event of a strike. 

Back-to-work legislation on the table

Premier Blaine Higgs previously said he’ll use back-to-work legislation or the province’s COVID-19 emergency order to prevent a strike affecting hospitals or schools.

Drost said workers are prepared to stay out “as long as it takes” and that back-to-work legislation would amount to “being bullied.”

Drost said the union is asking for pay that’s above the cost of living, which would amount to a three per cent increase over four years. The union previously rejected an offer from the province that includes a two per cent increase over five years. Canada’s inflation rate is 4.4 per cent.

Higgs said the two per cent increase offer is no longer on the table. The current offer has the same wage package that others have already accepted, Higgs said, and the wage increase in that offer is lower than two per cent.

“In an effort to try to settle this and not have a strike, we actually went higher … They turned it down,” Higgs said.

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