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Inside city workers picket outside Saint John City Hall on Sept. 12, 2023. Image: Submitted/Brittany Doyle

Week 2 of strike action for Saint John city workers

By Brad Perry Sep 20, 2023 | 6:38 AM

Week two of strike action by the City of Saint John’s unionized inside workers is well underway.

Around 140 clerical, administrative and support staff, represented by CUPE Local 486, walked off the job last Tuesday.

Brittany Doyle, president of CUPE Local 486, said they have seen a lot of community support since then.

“I understand there are some levels of frustration, but the overall theme is that they support us 110 per cent,” Doyle said in an interview on Tuesday.

“We’ve had lots of donations dropped off, lots of honks, so the citizens are definitely supportive.”

Members work in several city departments, including police/fire/911 dispatch, customer service, bylaw enforcement, permitting, recreation, court services, financial services, administrative support, IT and technical roles.

The ongoing strike has impacted some city services, including the collection of garbage, recycling and compost. While workers who handle curbside collection are not on strike, some are choosing not to cross picket lines that have been set up.

The city has suspended curbside recycling and compost collection until further notice so it can prioritize garbage collection.

Doyle said while members are still feeling good, they are disheartened to see the city negotiating in public.

On Friday, city officials released details of the wage offer made to CUPE representatives in July.

It included a $5,000 bonus for each member in year one of the offer, a 5.35 per cent increase in year two, a 2.1 per cent increase in years three and four, and a 2.25 per cent increase in year five.

“We cannot accept what the city has offered,” said Doyle. “A $5,000 cash payment is a zero per cent increase. Those wages don’t compound, they’re not pensionable.”

“If they’re not at least meeting the cost of living, then we’re in a wage rollback.”

City officials have also made public salary and other benefits details for the workers who are on the picket lines.

CUPE Local 486 workers earned an average of around $65,000 in 2022, with regular salaries ranging from $44,894 to $78,591. The highest-paid employee earned $137,000, which included overtime.

Employees receive up to seven weeks of paid vacation and have access to paid time off to care for family members and attend medical appointments. They can also accumulate up to 1,400 hours of paid sick time, and have access to a “sick leave bank.”

“What’s been put out is certainly out of context,” said Doyle. “The city is kind of leaving out pertinent information that would help paint a clearer picture.”

Doyle said the union has maintained an open line of communication with the city, but the sticking point continues to be wages.

The union claims the city has been offering a contract which violates its own wage escalation policy.

That policy, approved by council in 2019, said a three-year rolling average of assessment base growth should be used as part of contract negotiations.

But the city disputes that claim, arguing that it has a “fair and reasonable offer” on the table.

CUPE has declined to say what their wage ask is, only that it is somewhere between the wage escalation policy and the cost of living.