Nfld. & Labrador

Province preaches fairness as public sector unions at odds over contract

Finance minister says government has heard from major union representing provincial government workers in Newfoundland and Labrador rejecting its deal, while another union advises members to take it.

NAPE accuses CUPE of making 'outright false statements' during its voting process

Finance Minister Tom Osborne has said savings on post-retirement benefits for new workers will help offset a wage increase. (Patrick Butler/CBC)

One of the major unions representing provincial government workers in Newfoundland and Labrador is rejecting its deal, while another is advising members to take it. 

Sherry Hillier, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees N.L., says its 3,700 public sector members do not accept the "template bargaining" offered by the provincial government.

But Jerry Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, has told that union's roughly 16,000 members to vote in favour of the deal from Jan. 27 to 31, and declined to comment while the vote is in progress. 

Despite that, Earle shared a statement with members Wednesday that said "there have been confusing, misleading and, at times, outright false statements" about the tentative agreements by "an outside organization."

We don't like giving one union more than we give another.- Tom Osborne

"We just want to sit down and talk," Hillier said Tuesday, after formally asking the government to go to the bargaining table.

Finance Minister Tom Osborne said Wednesday the provincial government is open to discussion, but he says CUPE's comments are "interfering" with NAPE's process.

"I'm a little disappointed in the tactics used," he said.

"We sat in front of CUPE, put the proposal that we've reached with another union on the table, and we clearly indicated to them at the time, y'know, this is not do or die. This is what we've gotten with another union. 

 "We don't like giving one union more than we give another, so we'd like to achieve the same with all unions to be fair to everybody."

Focus on language

The province has offered NAPE and CUPE members, who work side by side in various sectors like health care and education, the same two-year extension to their contracts, which expire at the end of March.

Both unions took the same deal four years ago, and Hillier said the government has not heard the specific concerns of its members. But Osborne disagreed, saying they were heard less than a year ago when CUPE ratified the last deal. 

It's a smoke-and-mirrors thing.- Sherry Hillier

"There was years that there was no money to give from government, as it is now, but we got language in our collective agreement, firm language that protects our employees," Hillier said, which is what members want now. 

Pension concerns

Specifics of the deal on the table have recently become available, and include: a four per cent wage increase over 18 months; no layoffs or changes to sick leave, family leave, contracting out services, or public-private partnership provisions; but an adjustment to the pension plans. 

Pensions are where CUPE takes issue, and Hillier said she has no concerns about the two unions being at odds; her union just wants pensions to stay the same. 

Sherry Hillier, president of CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador, says the union has asked the government to go to the bargaining table to discuss extending its contract. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

"It's a smoke-and-mirrors thing to hide the clawback to pensions for future benefits of new hires," said Hillier. 

The proposed contract states that due to federal changes to increase the amount of money Canadians receive through the Canada Pension Plan, the province will make changes to the Public Service Pension Plan that NAPE and CUPE members get.

NAPE's Earle told his union that the federal government changes to CPP "are entirely separate from our bargaining process" that could save the province money. 

"Instead of treating these savings as general revenue, they will be passed along to members as part of the salary increase," he explained. 

So the province wanted to change the PSPP to maintain the same level of benefits that PSPP and CPP currently offer in the future, as the CPP goes up. 

Finance Minister Tom Osborne had previously said those concessions would see the government save money over time to offset some, but not all, of the extra money going into the four per cent wage increase. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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