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119 Days and Counting

John Mason, Jennifer Watts and John Thibeau speak on HRM council and NSUPE Local 22's strike

by Miles Howe

John Thibeau, John Mason and Jennifer Watts speak on NSUPE Local 22's 119 day and counting strike [Photo: Miles Howe]
John Thibeau, John Mason and Jennifer Watts speak on NSUPE Local 22's 119 day and counting strike [Photo: Miles Howe]

K'jipuktuk (Halifax) - Consider the situation of the members of the Nova Scotia Union of Public and Private Employees (NSUPE) local 22. The 25-member local are the maintenance and cleaning staff at Cole Harbour Place, which, while the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) claims is managed by a private board of directors, is an HRM-owned building. They have been on strike for 119 days as of today, Sept. 5, 2012. 

Determining whether local 22 are indeed HRM employees, or employees of a private company, is of particular relevance to the resolution of this extended strike, as it would actually force management — whoever that might be — to transparently identify themselves, rather than toss the proverbial hot potato back and forth. Many of the members of local 22 make only $10.37 an hour, significantly less than a city employee, and are in a poverty-line situation.

Cole Harbour Place's board of directors is represented by a councillor (Lorelei Nicoll of District 4, Cole Harbour) on HRM. Cole Habour Place is an HRM building. Local 22 receives HRM pay stubs, and those that receive pensions and benefits are in the HRM pension plan. Yet HRM has consistently claimed throughout the course of this strike that Cole Harbour Place's board of directors is an arm's length entity. This may well be a legal loop-hole, but it does raise the question of the HRM's morality, especially when dealing with some workers who have been employed for several decades at the same minimum-wage-plus-a-few-dimes job.

Towards gauging city council's both present and potential future position on the plight of NSUPE local 22, please enjoy the following interview with John Mason, president of local 22, Jennifer Watts, councillor for district 14, and John Thibeau, hopeful councillor for district 10.

John Mason, president of local 22 and an employee at Cole Harbour Place, has experienced first-hand the difficulties of working for poverty-line wages. And on a day where Halifax mayor Peter Kelly was conspicuously absent from city hall due to his involvement in the Halifax "concert scandal," a situation in which hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money remains unaccounted for, Mason doesn't see his union's request as high-handed in the least.

"We have people that have been here for 20 to 30 years, and [are] just making above minimum wage," says Mason. "We just didn't think that anybody within the building should be making less than $12 an hour. We asked for a $1.40 raise over four years, and that's pennies compared to what some people have asked for."

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Topics: Governance
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