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CUPE leaders warn 'anything is possible' if Higgs' pension bill moves forward

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The Canadian Union of Public Employees says it’s looking at ‘every conceivable option’ in response to legislation that would force over 20,000 members and retirees into a shared-risk pension plan.

The legislation was introduced in the New Brunswick legislature last week, and could be voted through by Friday.

When speaking to reporters Monday morning, union leaders said just about everything is on the table to halt the bill, including job action.

“I'm sure you can appreciate that as union leaders, we are not going to encourage our members to do illegal action. Now, what our members decide to do on their own, our very angry members, we're going to have to listen to what they're saying,” said CUPE regional director of the Maritimes, Sandy Harding.

“So what the government is doing is illegal right now, and our members will decide what they are going to do to match that illegal action.”

The battle stems from a 16 day strike that shutdown schools, delayed ferries and impaired the healthcare system in 2021, with 22,000 workers off the job.

When an agreement was struck, it did not include a resolution on pensions for some locals, but both sides agreed to continue those negotiations.

Now, both sides say the other did not live up to that.

Last week, Premier Blaine Higgs introduced the bill that would see the union members move under one of three shared-risk pension plans.

In a virtual news conference Monday afternoon, Higgs said the union is “not in a position to legally strike at all.”

“It would be a complete illegal activity should they choose to do so,” he said. “If that happened we would appeal directly to the labour board.”

He maintains his government hasn’t breached the original contract, and that he must represent taxpayers in this situation, repeating the future pension agreement needs to be sustainable.

Higgs did say all MLA’s were briefed on the pension bill prior to it being introduced in the legislature, and he is willing to extend the legislative schedule to ensure the bill is debated and passes. It could pass as early as Friday. 

President of CUPE NB Stephen Drost said they’re working with members, leaders, and other unions on next steps, and are planning a meeting in Fredericton Tuesday to decide what action they will take.

He did say they are still meeting with members of government, but the only move that will appease them is to walk the legislation back.

“I'm not going to put myself and the members at risk by divulging what we may or may not do. We are looking at any and all possible action, up to and including job action,” he said.

More to come.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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