Schools in New Brunswick will reopen on Monday after the provincial government reached a tentative agreement with the Canadian Union of Public Employees late Saturday.
“I know that the last couple of weeks have been challenging for students and parents,” Premier Blaine Higgs said in a press conference Sunday. “There’s no replacement for in-classroom learning.”
More than 22,000 public sector workers are now expected to return to work after being on strike for more than two weeks.
Tentative agreements were reached Saturday night with seven of the union’s locals, Higgs said.
Schools closed on Oct. 29 and moved to online learning after about 3,000 workers that included custodians, bus drivers, school library assistants and administrative support went on strike.
Community colleges, where CUPE workers are also employed, are expected to reopen to students on Tuesday.
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“I’m optimistic,” Higgs added. “I really believe people want to get back to work.”
Higgs declined to comment on contract terms.
CUPE New Brunswick president Steve Drost said negotiations over the past few days have been painful and tedious, but he’s excited to present it to workers after everything they went through.
“Both sides were able to make compromises in the best interest of the province,” he said.
The new wage offer will allow workers to keep up with cost of living in the province, he said. The 10 locals involved in strike action will be voting this week, with votes expected to wrap up by Friday.
“I think that we’ve been able to achieve labour peace for New Brunswick. I’m very confident that we’ve made some historic gains here for workers,” Drost said. “I couldn’t be prouder of the workers.”
Both parties have also reached an agreement regarding pension plans that were being offered to locals 2745 and 1253, Drost said.
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Previously the premier had been demanding the locals convert their pension plans into the shared-risk system already in place for most other provincial employees, a major sticking point in the labour dispute.
“We were able to achieve language in terms of a memorandum of understanding on that, whereby it’s not necessarily a conversion to shared risk,” Drost said.
A union led court challenge regarding the back to work order that forced more than 2,000 health-care workers back to work on Nov. 6 scheduled for Monday is still going ahead, he said. The premier has since confirmed the order has been revoked.
“We have to ensure that people’s rights weren’t violated,” Drost said.
N.B. Liquor stores staying open
A tentative agreement between the province and the local representing workers with N.B. Liquor was also reached Saturday evening, its president said.
The workers previously were set to take strike action by Tuesday if a deal couldn’t be reached over the weekend, which would have shuttered stores.
“The negotiating team is very happy. We’re glad to have this done,” said Jamie Agnew, the president of Local 963.
He wants the public to know there’s no need to panic buy. Provincewide sales reached $2 million on the Wednesday before Remembrance Day, he said, well over projections of around $500,000.
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A prior tentative agreement had been reached between the union and management a year ago.
“We thought we had a tentative agreement in November of 2020, but that was squashed by Mr. Higgs, so we had to go through this process again, and ended up taking a strike vote,” Agnew said.