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“It's not about one contract, it's about where this is taking us.”

Union members on the picket line speak out

by Robert Devet

NSGEU members braving blizzards and freezing rain to show their displeasure with back-to-work legislation at Province House.  Photo Robert Devet
NSGEU members braving blizzards and freezing rain to show their displeasure with back-to-work legislation at Province House. Photo Robert Devet

K'JIPUKTUK, HALIFAX - Nurses who work for Capital health are off the job, illegally so.

What triggered the walk-out is essential services legislation that the Liberal government introduced yesterday.

The legislation covers not just the nurses in the Halifax region who would have been in a legal strike position on April 3rd. All nurses province-wide are affected. As are other health care workers. As are workers for the Department of Community Services.

The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) believes that under the guise of essential services and protection of patients this is really back-to-work legislation.

“Make no mistake, this bill takes away the rights of 32,000 workers in Nova Scotia,” says a recent press release by the NSGEU.

Colleen McKenna is a Registered Nurse. She is one of the nurses picketing Province House today to oppose the back-to-work legislation.

We talked to McKenna at the hotel just a couple of blocks away from Province House, where union members go to share information, or simply to warm up while a blizzard rages outside.

Walking off the job is not an easy decision, McKenna tells the Halifax Media Co-op.

“It's scary, but I think it's important. There is a lot at stake. Things like the future of nursing in Nova Scota, and our health care. That's why I am here. It's not about one contract, it's about where this is taking us.”

McKenna isn't happy with the way the strike has been covered in the press. In particular suggestions that Joan Jessome, President of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU), runs the show all by herself show little understanding of how her union operates, McKenna argues.

“It's very frustrating. I don't think people really understand what is going on. The process at the union is very democratic. I can't think of an organization that is more so.”

“Joan Jessome is basically giving us leadership, a voice, and resources. But ultimately, what is guiding us here are our own thoughts and concerns.”

We find Jason MacLean on the picket line at Province House. MacLean is a correctional worker from Cape Breton. He is also the 1st Vice Presidents of the NSGEU.

For MacLean what's going on at Province House today is huge.

“It goes beyond the nurses,” says MacLean. .The back-to-work legislation affects not only nurses, but all of health care. And then there are the workers at Community Services. People who work in small options homes are affected by it as well.”

Not only is it far-reaching, we may be stuck with it for a very long time, says MacLean.

“My fear is that this will never be taken back by any government,” says MacLean. “It may be altered in certain ways, depending on the party [in power], but fundamentally I see very little being done with it.”

MacLean also believes that it is the Liberal government that is solely to blame for the turmoil.

“We are out on an illegal strike, but [the Liberal government] created this. As soon as the legislation was tabled the employer forced an impasse. It was all orchestrated, and it was all just a set-up to push their agenda,” says MacLean.

Meanwhile Colleen McKenna wants people to understand one thing.

“We have nurses here who are close to retirement and nurses who are brand new, and this affects us all in different ways,” says McKenna. “For a lot of the younger nurses, like myself, this may well shape the rest of our career in Nova Scotia.”

“Our concerns are valid and need to be heard. As nurses we are in the front-line and hands-on. We see the problems in our health care system. People need to listen, we are speaking up for a reason, we have valid concerns.”

See also:

Northwood home support staff ready to strike if that's what it takes

Striking home support workers surround Province House

Understaffing puts patients at risk, nurses say

California nurses have no regrets

Nurses strike ever more likely

Negotiate, don't legislate. Union members rally at Liberal AGM


Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert


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Topics: HealthLabour
680 words

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