© — Telegram file photo
Public-sector workers aren’t going on strike any time soon, despite the fact that their contract with the government expired more than a year ago.
In a video update to members posted on the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) website late last month, president Carol Furlong addressed the possibility of a public service strike head-on, saying it’s “not a viable option.”
She said she believes that’s what the government wants them to do.
“In recent times, government has demonstrated its willingness to use the power of the legislature to deny workers their right to strike and then to impose the terms of a collective agreement on us,” she said.
“Frankly, it is our belief that government anticipated we would strike last April and had intended to use the power of the legislature to impose an agreement.”
Speaking to The Telegram, Furlong said the negotiations with the government over the past year have been “extremely frustrating” and that the process has essentially stalled.
At the bargaining table, Furlong told members progress has been made on minor items, but the government has made no monetary offer, and has asked for concessions on severance pay.
“If there’s nothing on the table for us except concessions, why would we be in a rush to accept that?” Furlong said to The Telegram.
She said she met directly with Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy in June to break the logjam,
and at the end of it, she was “optimistic” that things could get moving again.
“Unfortunately, even though we were assured they would call us by now, we have not had a followup call from government and there is still no offer on substantive issues,” Furlong told members in her video message.
The Telegram requested an interview with Kennedy for this story, but was told by a spokeswoman for the Department of Finance that, “there will be no comment while negotiations are ongoing.”
Because the union thinks the government will just legislate members back to work, NAPE says the strike option is out; instead, it’s just going to keep attacking the government in the media.
“The goal is designed to gain support for public services and public employees, to bring attention to government’s agenda, including dismantling and privatizing public services , and the devastating impact this agenda will have on workers, your communities, and the people of our province,” Furlong said.
Furlong specifically highlighted the union’s recent advertising campaign, “Have Province, Have People” as an example of the sort of action it will take.
“This is a different era for bargaining, and we need to strategize differently than we have in the past,” Furlong said. “At the end of the day, we have taken an approach that is through the media and we do have several options available to us, some which we don’t really see to be viable for us.”
Furlong wouldn’t talk about the union’s strategy in the future, or what it thinks the endgame will be.
But in her video message, she warned members that the current strategy might take a while.
“This approach requires patience and its goal can only be evaluated and realized over a longer time frame,” she said. “We believe this is the most viable option at this point. We are now working on our next advertising campaign.”