20,000 public workers go on strike
Picket lines started going up at midnight Wednesday as almost 20,000 public sector workers represented by NAPE and CUPE went on strike, following the failure of high-level talks a couple of hours earlier.
Premier Danny Williams met with negotiators led by NAPE president Leo Puddister and CUPE provincial president.
The unions agreed to a two-year wage freeze being imposed by the government, but only if there were increases in later years.
The government's final offer was a five-year agreement with raises of two per cent in the third year and three per cent in each of the final two years.
"The offer's no good, not acceptable," said Lucas as he left the meeting with Williams. "It won't be acceptable to our members."
The unions wanted five per cent in each of the final three years, a demand too rich for the government's taste.
"We're disappointed they turned it down," said Williams. "We went a long way to try to reach an agreement. We don't want our public servants on the street."
The premier says the government's final offer is significantly different from what was on the table when union members voted to strike. He says many of the government's demands for concessions had been dropped.
Premier wants vote
"I think in all fairness that that new position should be put to the membership, Williams said. "I think his membership would be delighted with it, quite frankly."
The unions say their bargaining teams rejected the offer, so it won't go to a vote of all the members.
"Our membership has given us a mandate for the negotiating team to get rid of concessions and come back with a satisfactory offer. This is not a satisfactory offer," Puddister said as members of the union bargaining committees cheered him on at the Fairmont Newfoundland hotel.
Williams says the union's demands would have cost $330 million, and with the government trying to bring its deficit under control over the next four years, it cannot afford that size of an increase.
The budget includes plans to eliminate 4,000 public sector jobs over four years. The government says most of the jobs will disappear through attrition as people retire.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees has more than 15,000 members on strike and the Canadian Union of Publice Employes has 3,500 out.
The government and unions have negotiated essential workers' agreements that will provide skeleton services in hospitals, nursing homes and schools. Managers will have to perform many of the strikers' jobs, as well.
Hospitals and clinics have cancelled regular tests and selective procedures. Their doors are open to only urgent and emergency cases.
Schools also will be open, but boards that haven't contracted out bus services will be without school buses for students.