New Brunswick

Meeting between Premier and CUPE leader ends, but both sides mum on outcome

Premier Blaine Higgs met well into the evening with the New Brunswick president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees to talk about how to restart bargaining to end a strike that began almost a week ago.

No details released and no announcement made about whether meeting will resume Friday

New Brunswick CUPE president Stephen Drost arrives at Chancery Place on Thursday to meet with Premier Blaine Higgs. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

A meeting between Premier Blaine Higgs and the New Brunswick president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees wrapped up Thursday night with no clear outcome toward ending a week-old strike.

Stephen Drost arrived at Chancery Place, where the Premier's office is located, a few minutes before 1 p.m. He and fellow CUPE officials left shortly before 9 p.m.

A government spokesperson confirmed the meeting was over but would not say if there was any result or if the meeting would resume Friday morning.

CUPE spokesperson Simon Ouellette also confirmed the discussions had ended but had no further comment.

The first of more than 20,000 CUPE members began walking off the job last Friday morning after contract negotiations with the province collapsed for the second time.

Higgs told reporters Thursday morning that he still hoped the union will bend on his push to add another CUPE local to the province's shared-risk pension plan.

"From the beginning there's been this 'I won't talk about it,'" he said. "I don't think any of us can go in with the attitude that we won't talk about it. That isn't the spirit of any meeting you'd have to try to resolve conflict."

He said he didn't expect the meeting with Drost to resolve the dispute, but it could determine whether negotiations can resume. 

He added that he was prepared to talk to Drost for as long as it took. 

"It's the priority, so for me it won't really matter what else is in the schedule."

The striking workers include jail guards, school custodians, court stenographers, and clerical and cleaning staff working for regional health authorities.

The locals have been without contracts for years. The court stenographers' last contract expired in 2016. 

Another CUPE local representing N.B. Liquor store and warehouse workers is holding a strike vote this week. 

Higgs has warned that he could use back-to-work legislation, including an imposed wage mandate, to end the dispute. 

But he said he may also use the province's COVID-19 emergency order to force health-care workers back, given the impact of the strike on vaccination clinics, testing sites and hospital procedures. 

"Something has to give. We can't let the health-care system be impacted." 

While legislation would take several days of debate before it could be adopted, the emergency order can be invoked quickly by cabinet order.

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