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Halifax Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority workers hit the picket lines

by Katie Toth

Protester proves picketing can be glamorous as she holds 2 NSGEU placards
Members chatted between chanting "What do we want? Parity!"
One protester smiling at his assistance dog in the sunshine

On Mar. 31, 2011, clerical workers from the Halifax Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority greeted MLAs returning to the Legislature for the Spring session with demands for "Parity!"

Housing Authority clerks became the 47th local of the Nova Scotia General Employees Union (NSGEU) 2 years ago; they have still been unable to reach a collective bargaining agreement with their employer, the Nova Scotia Department of Community Service, according to the NSGEU website. However, the Department of Community Services has reached collective agreements with workers at other housing authorities in the province, including workers at Cobequid Housing Authority and Eastern Mainland Housing Authority.

"They're just looking for parity with all the other housing associations," said Don Goss, 2nd Vice President for the NSGEU. "They're not looking for more."

Goss thinks a government refusal to bargain with Housing Authority clerks is part of a greater problem. "This government has gone 180 degrees behind," he said. "They're acting like Tories."

Dawn Ferris is the 3rd Vice President of the NSGEU. For her, there's an irony laying behind this story. "These employees at this local actually trained the rest of the housing authority. So they trained their counterparts, and their counterparts got the contracts a couple years ago and are making more," she said. Ferris wants to see "equal work for equal pay."

The group of picketers was small—just over 20 people. Goss says that's partly because the Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority, which oversees 5000 housing units, is comprised of only 33 people.

"The employer's only allowed half of them to come down on their lunch hour," he added. "So they have to come down here from Gottingen Street in taxis, get down here for an hour and then get back or they'll be disciplined. It's really wrong."

In the two years since the bargaining unit has started, no change or move forward has been made, said Goss. "We thought it would be simple."

Kyle Buott is the President of the Halifax-Dartmouth District Labour Council. He thinks that new provincial legislation must be implemented to prevent an impasse like Local 47's from developing. "We actually need to see legislation from the provincial government that would let first-contract arbitration happen that would make sure that these fights don't go on for two years," he said. "We need to see changes to the labour law at the provincial level in order to make sure that workers aren't left out like this."

Members of Local 47 and of the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services were unable for comment at time of press. Check back for more interviews later this week!



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