Friday, October 23, 2020

History of the NBU: Part 3

Throughout the month of October, heading into our 50th anniversary convention, the New Brunswick Union (NBU) will be posting a series of articles detailing the history of the union.
The third installment details the 1980s. The first piece detailed the years prior to 1970 and can be found here. The second article looked at the 1970s. A special thank you to Alex Wentzell for his work researching and writing these stories.
The Second Decade (1980-89)
While the challenges facing the NBPEA during the 1970s were mostly external, those afflicting the organization in the following decade came from within. The challenges of the bargaining environment, turnover at the presidency, the death of a long time executive director, and the departure of one of its own components made the 1980s one of the most tumultuous decades in the history of the NBPEA.
The early years of the 1980s marked business as usual for the Association and its membership. In June 1980, the union established a committee which still exists today: its scholarship and bursary committee. By the next year, three scholarships were awarded to the relatives of NBPEA members.
In 1981, the NBPEA received good news when a CUPE raid of 2,250 of its members failed. CUPE had tried to organize the Clerical and Regulatory and Secretarial, Stenographic and Typing bargaining components of the NBPEA, but Treasury Board rejected their application outright since CUPE did not have majority support within the bargaining unit. Furthermore, Treasury Board established that applications for certification will not be considered unless the applicant had support of a majority. This meant that the raiding of units by other unions became much more difficult, which was certainly good for the smaller NBPEA.
Nineteen-eighty-two saw a setback for the NBPEA: the unit had tried to organize clerical school workers, represented by CUPE, but saw its application for certification rejected after losing a membership vote, 251 to 201. The clerical workers were coming off a failed strike that saw them get legislated back to work and many of their members publicly denounce CUPE. Nevertheless, membership voted to remain with CUPE. This failed raid, along with a large public service campaign trying to exchange the right-to-strike for binding arbitration, saw relations between CUPE and the NBPEA reach bitter levels.
On a lighter note, in March of 1982 the association undertook several upgrades to its head office in Fredericton. The building, a former church, was modified inside and out to better fit the needs of the association. The modifications remained in place until the NBPEA left the office in the late 1990s.
Nineteen-eighty-three saw a harsh blow to New Brunswick’s bargaining environment. Richard Hatfield’s Conservative government instituted a wage freeze, meaning all bargaining units could negotiate nothing higher than 0%. When considered in terms of inflation, this marked a pay decrease for members of the Association. Although the NBPEA was originally willing to agree to the wage freeze if other factors, such as promises of no layoffs, were met by the government, inaction on these terms meant that the Association ended up opposing the proposed freeze, leading to a tremendously difficult bargaining cycle.
In June of 1984 the NBPEA elected a new president, Christopher Legg of Moncton. Formerly a VP of the Association, Mr. Legg replaced Jack Ivey as president after 11 years of Ivey holding the post. Legg was just the third president in the Associations’ 14 years of existence.
Nineteen-eighty-four also saw the NBPEA become the certified bargaining agent for the employees of the Village of Perth-Andover. This was significant since it marked the first time since its inception that the NBPEA represented a unit not covered under the Public Service Labour Relations Act.
These two years marked business as usual for the Association. At the annual general meeting in 1986, the it elected a new president. Taking the post was Patrick Levassuer of Edmundston, succeeding Christopher Legg, who had been president since 1984.
Nineteen-eighty-seven marked one of the most dramatic and turbulent years in the Association’s existence. For the third time in four years, the association again elected a new president, as Christopher Legg once again held the position. Furthermore, along-running situation finally came to an end at the year’s general meeting. The National Union of Provincial Government Employees, NUPGE, had long been campaigning for the NBU to join its ranks. After a decade of hesitation on the part of NBPEA, delegates to the 1987 meeting firmly rejected affiliating with the National Union, keeping the NBPEA independent.
Having been rejected by convention delegates, NUPGE was prepared to leave New Brunswick when one of NBPEA’s own units approached it with a proposal. The Resource Services Unit, long dissatisfied with its wages and work week, hoped that national affiliation would provide it with a leg-up in negotiations. In October of 1987 they left the NBPEA by a vote of 163-83 to join the newly created New Brunswick Government Employees Union, NBGEU, an affiliate of NUPGE.
The new union, NBGEU, believed that the members of the NBPEA wanted to affiliate nationally, contrary to the way delegates voted at convention. They soon set their sights on other NBPEA units, raiding the ranks of the organization.
Despite the devastation of losing one of their founding components, the struggles for the NBPEA were far from over in 1987. In early December, its long-time executive director, Harold Lockhart, died after a brief illness. Lockhart’s role in the founding of the NBPEA cannot be overstated. He had been part of the organization since its inception, and prior to that served as the executive director of NBPEA Inc. for many years.
Moreover, Lockhart was solely responsible for setting the organization’s tone and approach to bargaining. In particular, his opposition to strike action left a lasting mark on the legacy of the NBPEA, distancing it from its provincial counterparts. Don Hoyt wrote in the Telegraph-Journal, January 7th, 1988: “Lockhart and the NBPEA were so much one and the same that the organization may have difficulty surviving without him.” Lockhart was resolute in his principles, remaining firm in his opposition to striking despite the scorn and ridicule it affronted him from other unions with the province. With his death, the NBPEA would be hiring a new executive director for the first time in its 17 year history.
Nineteen-eighty-eight began with persistent raids on the NBPEA membership by its new provincial rival, the NBGEU. The NBGEU sought to become the bargaining agent for all of NBPEA’s members, focusing primarily on the Clerical and Regulatory and Educational Instructional units. Despite their attempts, NBGEU could only pry away one unit from the NBPEA in 1988. In late November, the Industrial Training and Certification Officers component transferred to NBGEU, the second component to do so.
Nineteen-eighty-eight also saw the union fail to maintain the stability it had enjoyed at the executive director position for the past seventeen years. In April of 1988, NBPEA hired G.A. Soucy to be its new executive director; however, Mr. Soucy would resign less than a month later. The role of the executive director was then filled on an interim basis by past president Patrick Lavasseur, as the association struggled to fill the very large void left by the passing of Harold Lockhart.
Finally, 1988 saw the NBPEA have its third president in as many years. Assuming the role was Michael J. Mackinnon, succeeding Christopher Legg.
In the final year of the decade the NBPEA hired its new executive director, Donald Macpherson. This move afforded the association some stability at the end of the decade, which was much needed after several difficult years. Despite continued raids by NBGEU, the NBPEA was able to stay intact during the year.