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Larry Haiven to Law Amendments Committee: Machiavelli would be proud

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Photo Robert Devet
Photo Robert Devet

I am a professor in the Department of Management, Sobey School of Business, at Saint Mary’s

I was last before this committee in April of this year over Bill 37, this government’s first attempt to hobble collective bargaining in health care [a law

And here we are again, as the government marks step 2 of the process.

At that time I said this, which is just as relevant for Bill 1: Practically everybody and ALL politicians say they believe in collective bargaining. It’s like democracy and motherhood and the tooth fairy. But collective bargaining is a fragile thing. It works only under conditions of voluntarism – it DOESN’T work when big brother puts his finger on the scale

I’ll use another analogy to describe what the Liberal government is trying to do with this legislation. Let’s say the government decides that the whole legislative representation thing is way too inefficient. It says we’re going to reduce the 50-odd constituencies in Nova Scotia to four. And, oh yeah, forget about this voting stuff – way too expensive and cumbersome. From now on the government will appoint your MLA. And so we still have a shell of representational government with the most important thing missing – democracy. This is just type of thing that Joseph Howe would be in this building here railing against 150 years ago. And that’s what you’re proposing to union members as far as choosing the union that will represent them.

At least that’s the way it sounded last Thursday; the government had the pistol in its hand, fully-loaded, cocked and aimed at the temple of the health care workers and their unions. But wait; now the government is backtracking; proposing to hand the same fully-loaded and cocked pistol over to a third-party who will actually fire it. And wait, that third party will actually consult the unions about when and how the pistol is fired at them. And wait, maybe one of the unions will do what the government dearly wishes and grab the pistol and turn it on the other unions.

Anything so the government can say “We didn’t fire the pistol”

But it amounts to the same thing.

Pardon me for mixing metaphors; I’m a business prof, not an English prof. But this doesn’t sound like voluntarism to me.

In response to the government’s proposal to streamline health care collective bargaining, the four unions got together last summer and made an eminently reasonable proposal.

They proposed that the unions not be forced to give up their members but rather they would form bargaining associations for each of the four bargaining units where the unions would have a say in proposals but where they spoke with a single voice.

This kind of arrangement has been in operation for almost twenty years in British Columbia; and it works. Government spokespeople say this would simply be the status quo; this is not the status quo; this would be quite effective.

A second solution would be to have run-off votes where the workers in each of the four bargaining units would decide which union would represent them; that’s how it’s been decided in Nova Scotia in the past where hospitals, health districts and municipalities have merged; it’s not pretty, but it, too, works.

But the government didn’t want this either; WHY?

The only possible reason is this: under those two scenarios, the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union would retain a position of dominance in health care ; under the government’s scenario, the NSGEU would certainly be decimated. It’s as simple as that, and it’s disgraceful. Machiavelli would be proud.

Nova Scotia has a myriad of economic problems, but making one union public enemy number one will not solve them.

One thing is for sure: unions have a penchant for rising to the occasion; or at the risk of using one more analogy; if you poke a sleeping bear with a stick, you’re in for trouble; whether it’s a Poppa Bear, a Momma Bear, an NSGEU bear, a CUPE bear, an NSNU bear or a UNIFOR bear.


See also: Bill 1 protests continue, but unions split over bargaining associations


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