More than 6,000 New Brunswick community college students will head back to class Monday, now that a strike involving college custodians has been settled.
“Life starts again,” said Cynthia Bell, a member of the New Brunswick Community College Student Association.
She said students were looking forward to continuing their studies which were disrupted by the five-week strike that began Jan. 10.
“We appreciate the return and hope that steps will be taken to insure that the future generations of students will not have to experience such a situation again,” she said in a statement.
Local 1251 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which also includes human service counsellors and correctional officers, launched the strike in an effort to back demands for wage parity with other workers in New Brunswick and in neighbouring provinces.
The union argued that college custodians were making $1.12 per hour less than janitors in public schools, even though they worked for the same employer.
New Brunswick jail guards are the lowest paid in the country.
With 80 per cent of the jail guards deemed as essential workers and unable to strike, the work stoppage by college custodians had the most impact as campuses were forced to close due to dirty classrooms and bathrooms.
Both the union and the province dug in their heels during the dispute.
It finally came to a head this past week as the government recalled the legislature to consider back-to-work legislation.
The legislation was averted when a tentative agreement was reached early Wednesday, just hours before the start of the house session.
Union members voted Thursday – narrowly accepting the deal – with only 55 per cent voting in favour.
The ratified four-year contact contains wage increases ranging from 12.6 per cent to 21.8 per cent for the various classes.
“It’s the identical deal we were offered last week, except they added a $1,000 one-time signing bonus,” said Louis Arseneau, president of the union local.
Arseneau said the threat of back to work legislation was like having a gun to the union’s head and members had little choice but to accept the contract.
“You feel fairly powerless,” he said. “Imagine somebody that has full control on you with that type of threat, and they want to tell you how to dance.”
Arseneau said he expected that the colleges could be cleaned in time for classes to resume on Monday.
Elaine Bell, a spokeswoman for the Department of Post Secondary Education advised that students should call ahead to check on plans for their particular programs, but expected most, if not all, classes would resume Monday.
“According to the contingency plans we put into place, students will be able to complete their year on time,” Bell said.
“We do have some instances where students were sent home with assignments during the course of the dispute, while other students were sent on their practicums early,” she said.
-with a report from CP