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Saint John suspends compost and recycling pickup 'until further notice' due to strike

Saint Johners should not put their compost or recycling bins curbside, the city advised Monday, as only garbage will be picked up for now. (City of Saint John  - image credit)
Saint Johners should not put their compost or recycling bins curbside, the city advised Monday, as only garbage will be picked up for now. (City of Saint John - image credit)

Saint John has suspended the household collection of compost and recycling "until further notice," citing the ongoing strike by inside workers.

The city has also released details about the salaries, vacation, sick pay and other benefits of the roughly 140 clerical, administrative and support staff — members of CUPE Local 486 — who have been on strike since last Tuesday over wages.

On Monday, the city issued a reminder that it's "experiencing delays in providing curbside garbage, compost and recycling collection due to the strike activities of CUPE Local 486 inside workforce.

"For this reason, the city is prioritizing the collection of household garbage at this time," it said.

The city will provide updates on its website and social media accounts, it added.

CUPE inside workers are on strike, and are picketing around garbage-pickup equipment. Some garbage collection workers, while not on strike, are not crossing the picket lines.
CUPE inside workers are on strike, and are picketing around garbage-pickup equipment. Some garbage collection workers, while not on strike, are not crossing the picket lines.

CUPE inside workers are on strike, and have been blocking city garbage trucks with their picket lines, according to the city. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Asked to clarify why the strike by inside workers is affecting these outside services, city spokesperson Lisa Caissie told CBC that Local 486 members have been blocking city trucks along Fairville Boulevard and at the sanitation landfill.

"They've also been following city trucks to set up picket lines when they stop "on city streets and provincial roadways, she alleged in an emailed statement.

Brittany Doyle, president of Local 486, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Last week, pickets at several garbage depots saw garbage pickup for east Saint John residents delayed by 20 hours, while compost collection was even later.

Members of other unions, including garbage collection workers, have the right to not cross picket lines, Doyle has said.

Compensated 'fairly and competitively'

In a separate news release Monday, the city argued the inside workers are compensated "fairly and competitively."

The average regular salary for the workers, who perform desk duties such as answering customer service lines and processing permits, as well 911 dispatching, was approximately $65,000 last year, with the highest paid employee earning over $137,000, including overtime, it said.

Among the highest paid CUPE Local 486 inside workers are those in positions such as public safety communications centre (PSCC) supervisor, technologists, and network specialist.

The offer made to CUPE Local 486 on July 26 is both competitive and fair to the employees, and responsible to the taxpayers. — Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon

As a responsible public service, it's important to look at the full package of wages and benefits when determining how much the taxpayers of Saint John can afford, Mayor Donna Reardon said in a statement.

"We value the work of our employees and we value the contributions our community makes to compensating them," she said.

"The city's negotiating team has balanced both needs well, and I can say that the offer made to CUPE Local 486 on July 26 is both competitive and fair to the employees, and responsible to the taxpayers."

Offered 11.8% increase over 4 years and $5K bonus

The city released details last Friday about the wage increases offered.

They include an immediate one-time payment of $5,000 for all employees for 2022, followed by an 11.8 per cent cumulative pay increase for 2023-2026, according to the city — 5.35 per cent in 2023, 2.10 per cent in each of the next two years, followed by 2.25 per cent in 2026.

This would cost the city $5.4 million.

As of last Friday, the union has not yet proposed a counter-offer, the city said.

In the last contract, CUPE Local 486 members received a cumulative wage increase of 15.75 per cent over seven years, the city said.

Fridays off for most during past year

Since last October, most Local 486 members, with the exception of public safety communications centre employees, have worked a four-day compressed week, allowing them to take every Friday off, the city noted.

Inside workers work 35 hours a week, with any time beyond that paid at overtime rates or through time off in lieu.

They get up to seven weeks of paid vacation leave annually, after completing 25 years of service.

In addition, they are entitled to 14 hours of flexible paid time off and up to 35 hours of paid time off to care for family members.

Inside workers can accumulate up to 1,400 hours of paid sick time, earned at a rate of 10.5 hours per month, and have access to a sick leave bank of up to 3,640 hours during their tenure.

Among their other benefits is a maternity leave top-up, beyond government benefits, to 90 per cent of their regular pay for 17 weeks, the city said.

911 calls being answered 'promptly'

The Saint John Police Force issued its own news release Monday assuring the public that emergency calls are being answered "promptly," despite the strike by 911 operators and dispatchers, and that non-emergency inquiries are "being processed efficiently."

The implementation of the contingency plan was "no small feat," it said, pointing to the large-scale fire at the American Iron and Metal scrapyard Thursday and the impact of post-tropical storm Lee over the weekend.

"During this labour dispute, our primary concern has been to maintain the highest standards of service to our community," the force said, thanking the public for their continued patience and understanding.