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Bill 1 protests continue, but unions split over bargaining associations

by Robert Devet

Photo Robert Devet
Photo Robert Devet
Photo Robert Devet
Photo Robert Devet
Photo Robert Devet
Photo Robert Devet
Photo Robert Devet
Photo Robert Devet
Photo Robert Devet

(K'JIPUKTUK) HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's united labour front against Bill 1, legislation that will force many health care workers into a union not of their choosing, is showing some cracks.

Three of the four health care unions remain steadfast in their support of bargaining associations. Bargaining associations allow for unions to bargain collective agreements together and to keep existing membership intact.

But the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) is now pushing for run-off votes among union membership to determine health care worker representation for each of the four bargaining units.

“We all still believe in our hearts that bargaining associations are the best solution for the membership, for the public, and for the services,” Joan Jessome, president of the NSGEU, told the Halifax Media Co-op. “But the legislation absolutely prohibits this from happening.”

Jessome argues that to continue to push for a bargaining association model while it is no longer realistic reflects other unions' reluctance to lose members in a run-off vote. She also points out that the Nova Scotia Nurses Union (NSNU) stands to gain many new members from Bill 1.

“Meanwhile these unions do not not stand up for the fundamental right of workers to vote on their union,” Jessome sais. “This is a right people have fought and died for, this is a democratic right, this is a place where we must say that we choose, and we do not let the government do the choosing for us.”

And who knows, said Jessome, pushing for the right to vote might have caused the government to concede to bargaining associations after all.

“I believe that given time we could convince Nova Scotians that the right to choose, the right to choose your religion, your union, your parliament, your partner, is a fundamental right,” she said. “I also believe that the government would have been so afraid of giving us the right to choose that they would have given us the bargaining association instead.”

Danny Cavanagh, president of the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) understands the NSGEU's position. But he disagrees.

“We have a legal opinion that tells us that the bargaining association is still a potential outcome of the mediation process,” Cavanagh told the Halifax Media Co-op. “We believe we need to support one another throughout that mediation process and continue to fight to have bargaining associations.”

For Cavanagh it's not just a matter of tactics, it's also a matter of fairness. “To have a run-off vote for us is not a level playing field,” Cavanagh said.

Susan Gill, president of Unifor Local 4600, and an energetic presence at rallies at Province House this week, agrees with Cavanagh. We already voted, she said.

“We voted in 1994 to join what was then the Canadian Auto Workers Union. There is no need for another vote,” Gill said. “Our union believes that the bargaining association is the best resolution because it keeps our membership intact, compared to all the divisiveness of pitting member against member, union against union.”

There were two large rallies today. The first rally occurred in the morning and was called for by the NSGEU. Joan Jessome addressed a large and enthusiastic crowd, explaining her reluctance to continue to support bargaining associations.

The second rally took place early in the afternoon and was organized by Unifor. That meeting started at the World Trade and Convention Centre where people listened to Unifor Atlantic president Lana Payne, and Unifor national president Jerry Dias.

“This week our members held their heads high despite incredibly trying circumstances,” Payne said. “Their spirits would not be squashed by an oppressive and outrageous piece of legislation. Their hopes would not be dashed, they were fierce and fearless.”

“Bill 1 is a ruthless piece of business. It pits worker against worker and union against union,” she said. “It is true that it has tested our solidarity and our resolve. But I feel very good today about the place where our union is in.”

“We stood strong and we stood firm for a very principled position, one that allowed all of us to remain members of our respective unions,” said Payne.

“Neither carving up members nor run-off votes respects the rights of our members. All that these two options do is divide the labour movement. And the only one who wins in that scenario is the government that has dumped this legislation on us.”

Danny Cavanagh of CUPE and Janet Hazelton, president of the NSNU also spoke at that second rally.

Attendants than marched to Province House. Members of all four unions mixed freely at both occasions.

See also:

Health care workers call legislation a direct attack on unions

Larry Haiven to Law Amendments Committee: Machiavelli would be proud

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

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