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CUPE Local 486, which represents striking workers in Saint John, hold a news conference on Oct. 3, 2023. Image: Brad Perry

Striking Saint John workers call on council to accept counterproposal

By Brad Perry Oct 3, 2023 | 2:05 PM

Striking inside workers in Saint John are calling on the mayor and council to accept their latest counterproposal.

Members of CUPE Local 486 “overwhelmingly rejected” the city’s latest offer on Sunday, according to the union.

While bargaining teams appear closer to reaching an agreement to end the strike, which began Sept. 12, the city’s wage escalation policy remains a sticking point.

The policy, passed by council in 2019, is meant to ensure that wage escalation does not exceed a three-year rolling average of city’s assessment base growth or CPI plus one per cent, whichever is lower;.

Mike Davidson, CUPE’s national servicing representative, claims the city’s latest five-year offer still falls below the policy.

“In 2024, they are not offering the three-year rolling average on the assessment base growth to our members,” Davidson said during a news conference on Tuesday.

“It’s looking like it’ll most likely be capped at CPI plus one and that’s what we are looking for for our membership to be fair and equitable because we know that’s what other city employee groups will most likely be receiving.”

But Davidson said they will not know what that number is until 2024 assessment numbers are available from the province later this year.

CUPE alleges that mayor and council are not receiving accurate information from city staff when it comes to the negotiations.

The union also claims that the city is misinterpreting the policy, which says the city manager “shall recommend increases to wages and benefits” in accordance with the policy and that council “shall direct staff to use the three-year rolling average of the assessment base growth” in contract negotiations.

“The ‘shall’ is ‘may’ in their interpretation but the word ‘shall’ has a very definitive meaning to it,” said Davidson.

“The policy is clearly written that they are to offer the three-year rolling average in contract talks for wages and they haven’t been doing that.”

But city officials have maintained that they are following the policy, arguing that the wage escalation cap has to do with the entire wage and benefits budget and not just salaries.

Chief financial officer Kevin Fudge has said that the budget must also cover step or group increases, the rising cost of benefits, increases in overtime budgets, and any extra positions that are hired.

Davidson said another issue with the city’s latest offer had to do with split wages during the first three years of the deal.

He said workers would receive half of their wage increase during the first six months before waiting another six months for the other half.

“No other employees have been treated like that before,” said Davidson.

CUPE Local 486 represents around 140 clerical, administrative and support staff who 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.