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‘We were hoping that this would be resolved long before this’: CUPE members frustrated with talks with city

Nearly 140 members of CUPE Local 486, the union who represents inside workers at the City of Saint John, have been on strike for nearly two weeks.

“We were hoping that this would be resolved long before this,” says national CUPE representative Mike Davidson. “We were hoping to avoid this altogether.”

Outside of 911 operators represented under Local 486, union members only work four day work weeks. The two sides have yet to meet at the negotiating table since the strike began on September 12.

“We’ve maintained our position that our wages need to compound, we cannot take zeros and we need to find a balance between the wage escalation numbers and the cost of living,” Local CUPE president Brittany Doyle says. “Our members cannot, especially in these times, cannot take a zero per cent increase, there is just no way.”

The strike has had a direct impact on garbage collection in the municipality, with recycle and compost pick up currently suspended.

Saint John Transit also got off to a late start Wednesday morning blaming picket lines from striking members at their main office. The union denied any blockade, saying they allowed buses to pass during a morning meeting.

The city first made an offer to CUPE 486 on July 26. On Friday, the city published details of the offer on its website, saying the proposal is fair, responsible, and fully compliant with city councils wage escalation policy.

“I wouldn’t say that is negotiating in public,” says Mayor Donna Reardon. “Because the claim has been that our wage escalation policy doesn’t work, it’s flawed, it’s not helpful etc. All we really did was clarify what the union has said.”

CUPE has called the city’s wage escalation policy “flawed,” which the mayor understands.

“It’s based on our affordability,” says Reardon. “That’s their job, I guess, as negotiators not to bother looking at the affordability for the city, there job is to get as much as they can for the union.”

The city says they have not heard back from the union on this offer, despite the union’s claims they have rejected and countered the offer on two separate occasions.

In that July 26 offer, the city included a one-time, $5,000 bonus for 486 members upon signing the deal. The union is focused on the zero per cent in wage escalation for 2022, when the rolling average is 3.04 per cent, something CUPE says has to change.

“The $5,000 dollars equates to $700,010,” says Davidson. “3.04 per cent in 2022 equates to about $265,000. We told the city to save half a million dollars and put the first year on wages.”

“We want to be fair to our employees,” says Mayor Reardon on negotiations. “But we also have to reasonable to everyone who lives here and is playing the bills.”

“We are spending public money on this.”

The mayor also notes a number of other city contracts that are upcoming, including ongoing negotiations with city transit, stating the importance of getting the first contract right.

In an uncommon move, the city released information on Monday detailing CUPE Local 486’s current deal. The release includes salaries, overtime, vacation, sick pay, and other benefits.

“It’s disheartening to see that the city wants to negotiate in public.” Doyle says. “Those benefits have been previously negotiated and we have sold off parts of our agreements to afford those benefits so it’s not really painting the full picture and the city is hoping it will have a negative impact or shine or members in a negative light, but unfortunately that is not the case.”

There are currently no talks scheduled between the two sides, but both parties say they are eager and ready to get back to the table.

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