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“Bargaining Associations work well here,” BC Nurses Union says

by Robert Devet

This Wednesday union members continue their vigil in front of the provincial legislature, while inside health care workers speak out against Bill 1 at Law Amendments.  Photo Robert Devet
This Wednesday union members continue their vigil in front of the provincial legislature, while inside health care workers speak out against Bill 1 at Law Amendments. Photo Robert Devet

(K'JIPUKTUK) HALIFAX - The Nova Scotia liberal government is telling health care workers to abandon their current union and join a new one.

That does not need to happen, health care unions argue.

Earlier this summer the four affected unions submitted a detailed proposal to keep their current membership intact and allow unions to bargain collective agreements together, through so-called bargaining associations.

Premier Stephen McNeil, echoing the response of health care employers, says bargaining associations simply cannot work. How could all these different unions possibly speak with one voice?

“The bargaining process itself would become dysfunctional,” the employers wrote in their response to the proposal.

However, in British Columbia bargaining associations that are similar to the Nova Scotia union proposal have been around for a while.

That system works well, says Gary Fane, Executive Director of Negotiations and Strategic Development with the BC Nurses Union (BCNU).

“Workers continue to be in the union of their choice,” Fane tells the Halifax Media Co-op. “It works well for us, and by and large employers in BC will also tell you that the system works quite well.”

Challenges in BC are around protecting the rights of the minority unions within the bargaining association, which can be accomplished through special rules, Fane explains. But dysfunctional bargaining teams are not an issue, he says.

Nova Scotia labour leaders also believe that dysfunctional bargaining processes are not a concern.

"That's not their problem, that's our problem,” Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union, says. “We work together on pension plans, on workplace violence, we all belong to the Federation of Labour.

"We want to keep the members we have, and we will bargain together with CUPE, Unifor and the NSGEU, and we will get a deal,” says Hazelton.

Bargaining from the union's perspective is already a matter of reconciling different interests, Hazelton points out.

“Right now I represent nurses from Cape Breton who have different needs than nurses who work for the IWK, and just because they belong to same union does not mean it is not something we have to deal with within our caucus,” Hazelton says. “Same thing if we add another union. Their perspective has to be heard. We figure it out.”

Other issues raised by Nova Scotia employers and government centre around the composition of bargaining units, and what happens to current collective agreements.

Those are not show stoppers, Hazelton believes.

“That can be figured out during the collective bargaining, we sort that stuff out in our next collective agreement,” she says. Hazelton also believes that current collective agreements are not as far apart as is sometimes suggested.

“All that stuff is workable,” agrees Danny Cavanagh, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Nova Scotia.

“The government does not understand how much chaos this is going to create,” Cavanagh adds. “I get calls from CUPE members who work in hospitals across the province. They don't want to leave their union.”

“If the government claims to believe in free collective bargaining than it needs to accept the bargaining associations and get on with bargaining. The first rounds will be difficult, but ultimately the transition will be smooth,” says Cavanagh.

 

 


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