St. Johns, NL, April 22, 2004Yesterday, April 21, 2004, Leo Puddister, president of NAPE, and Dave Reynolds, national representative with CUPE, met with the premier and the minister of finance to try to settle the strike. Within five minutes, the premier referred to legislating the unions 20,000 striking members back to work. In fact, it was immediately clear that this government had no intention of removing the two outstanding concessions on sick leave and hours of work for school board employees, concessions that caused this strike in the first place.
On the issue of sick leave, NAPE and CUPE made the point once again that cutting sick leave for new employees would create no savings for many years, while the unions offer for a joint task force on sick leave management would begin creating savings in a few months and would continue to deliver savings forever.
On the issue of school board employees hours of work, NAPE and CUPE asked why the government wouldnt agree that hours of work for administrative support staff should be based on the number of students in the schools where they work and the hours of work for janitorial and maintenance staff should be based on the number of square feet of school to be cleaned and maintained. Neither the premier nor the finance minister could give a reason; however, they stated that Treasury Board official Dave Gale had told them the government needed this concession. Workers, children, and parents suffered through a nine-week strike on this issue in 2001 in order to ensure workers had enough hours in which to complete the work expected of them.
The unions proposed the following wage increases: one per cent in the first year, one per cent in the second year, three per cent in the third year, and three per cent in the fourth year, for a total of eight per cent over four yearsnot quite enough to keep up with the rising cost of living. The unions made this proposal after their members had been forced by the premier to go without three weeks wages, saving government more than 50 million dollars. It didnt matter that this was a reasonable offer. Government didnt want to settle.
This strike was forced by the premier to prove he can treat employees as he sees fit. The premier wants to break the unions representing government employees. If the premier were a man of honour, he would have made his plan clear on January 5, 2004, rather than forcing workers to the street for three weeks, doing untold damage to the local economy, to the health and welfare of the people who live here, and to the provinces labour relations reputation.
The premier is inflexible. The strike should never have happened. The government has made demands. The unions have made none. Now the premier wants to legislate our members back to work. Lets face it. The premier planned this all along.
Some sixteen thousand members of NAPE, the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, together with some four thousand members of CUPE, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, have been engaged in a legal strike since April 1, 2004.
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