CUPE leaders are demanding apologies from Stephen McNeil and Karen Casey over allegations the union conspired with the provincial government in recent contract talks.

But the opposition leaders are refusing to back down.

CUPE was responding to a story in Friday’s edition of Metro that quoted Liberal Leader McNeil and Tory Leader Casey saying the union and the NDP government faked tough contract negotiations that ended early last week for health-care workers and school support staff outside the Halifax region.

McNeil said union leadership and government used rank and file members as “pawns” in the talks. Casey said the whole thing was “a game.”

CUPE issued a strongly worded release Friday demanding the leaders recant their statements.

“Stephen McNeil has some gall. You do not become the biggest union in the country, with 600,000 members, without having the utmost integrity and character. How dare he suggest otherwise,” CUPE Atlantic regional director Jacquie Bramwell said.

“Neither Stephen McNeil nor Karen Casey speak on behalf of our members and it is outrageous in the extreme to be making these kinds of inflammatory and inaccurate statements.”

CUPE Nova Scotia leader Danny Cavanagh said the leaders’ statements demonstrate “a profound ignorance of collective bargaining” and CUPE “is demanding a full and immediate apology from both these leaders.”

Liberal and Progressive Conservative officials confirmed yesterday both leaders are standing by their comments.

Last week, McNeil questioned how a contract with education workers could be worked out after a few hours of negotiations when the two sides hadn’t been at the table for months.

“Something’s up,” he concluded.

Casey said both sides knew since the fall that unions would get the pay parity they were seeking, but “wanted to appear to be letting the process work itself through.”

The NDP has denied the charges. One government official joked not only did they collaborate with unions, but Elvis led the bargaining team.