The New Brunswick government locked-out all non-designated employees in two striking union locals on Sunday in what it describes as an effort to provide stability to students and families.
The affected employees – members of locals 1253 and 2745 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees – include custodians, bus drivers, school library assistants and administrative support workers, as well as a number of educational assistants.
Education Minister Dominic Cardy said the union has shown unpredictability provincewide, creating a volatile climate for teachers, students and parents.
“We’ve been pressured into this measure,” Cardy told reporters during a news conference Sunday afternoon. “CUPE has not provided us with accurate or up-to-date information about their strike plans as they affect the nearly 300 schools in our province.”
“On Friday morning we learned with only a few hours notice about their intention to take the school bus system off the road,” he said.
Cardy said there were other workers who were supposed to show up Friday but called in sick.
“We can’t have one school where we’re not sure who is coming to work, another school where someone says they’re coming but then they don’t,” he said. “We’ve got to have some level of stability and predictability.”
Cardy said the government wants to ensure families are able to plan ahead and not wonder what the next day will bring. He said the only way to do that is to move schooling online.
“Online learning isn’t as good as in-person learning. I’ve been clear about that,” Cardy said.
The union, representing about 22,000 public servants, went on strike last week to back demands for higher wages.
CUPE New Brunswick president Steve Drost said most of the union’s members haven’t had a proper raise in 15 years and remain among the lowest paid in the country.
“This is just more heavy-handed tactics by this government to try and punish these workers who are standing up for their own rights,” Drost said in an interview Sunday.
He said the government had given weak arguments for making the shift to online learning.
“Just more excuses from a government that refuses to negotiate fairly with workers who deserve fair wages,” he said.
Drost said the union’s bargaining team is available in Fredericton and willing to resume negotiations.
Before contract talks broke off Tuesday night, the union was seeking a 12 per cent raise over four years, while the government confirmed Thursday it was offering an 8.5 per cent wage increase over a five-year period.
Cardy said students will continue to learn from home until the strike is over, adding he hopes it ends soon.