The wage package that CUPE has tentatively accepted is as much as other Newfoundland and Labrador unions can expect, the premier says.
Danny Williams said the tentative deal announced late Thursday is as much as his government can afford.
CUPE is recommending its workers accept the package, which offers 20 per cent over four years. With compounding, salaries will increase by almost 22 per cent over the life of the deal.
CUPE's 4,200 members — who include hospital and school board employees — would get an eight per cent raise in the first year and four per cent in the three subsequent years.
Williams said the eight per cent bump in the first year is significant.
"The fact that this is front-end loaded is part of the fact that we are recognizing the sacrifice and the contribution that public sector workers have made over several years," said Williams, referring to a wage freeze that was a component of the previous contract, as well as restraint in preceding years.
CUPE is the first public-sector union to settle with the provincial government amid current bargaining rounds.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses' Union has sought conciliation after the government rebuffed its demand for a 24 per cent increase over two years.
As well, the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public Employees is now moving into formal bargaining. NAPE is, by far, the largest union that negotiates with the government.
Although the Nurses' Union — which is also seeking raises in the floor and ceiling of the contract in order to recruit and retain nurses — has said it will not accept a four-year deal, Williams said the CUPE offer is the standard for other unions.
"That's the template," he said.
"To be quite honest with you, I think there is going to be widespread acceptance, from a perspective that this is a very, very good raise," Williams said.
Change in relations
The government said if that pay increase is applied to its other unions, its payroll will increase by more than $500 million per year.
The deal marks a change in relations between CUPE and the government. CUPE and NAPE went on strike together in 2004 for one month, although that dispute ended with the house of assembly legislating the workers back to their jobs.
As well, they were forced to accept a concessionary contract that froze wages for two years, with minor increases thereafter.
CUPE president Wayne Lucas said Friday that he had "no hesitation whatsoever" in recommending the package to his members.
NAPE president Carol Furlong said it is too early to tell if her members will accept the same deal.
With her union now deep in contract talks of its own, she said Friday that she still does not know the full terms of what CUPE members have been offered.
"We don't know if there are other packages involved in any of this, other monetary packages or what issues have been resolved for them," Furlong said.
"We still have a lot of issues — serious issues — that we need to resolve at that bargaining table, so we want to continue on with our collective bargaining process and our negotiations and deal with some of these issues that are very important to us."
Furlong would not say if the 20 per cent pay raise was something NAPE would accept.