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Dorsey decision revives collaborative bargaining

“This is a great day for labour," says Joan Jessome, NSGEU president.

by Robert Devet

"This is a great day for labour," Joan Jessome, President of the NSGEU, told reporters. She was referring to today's Dorsey decision on Bill 1. Photo Robert Devet
"This is a great day for labour," Joan Jessome, President of the NSGEU, told reporters. She was referring to today's Dorsey decision on Bill 1. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - Nova Scotia's health care unions may still get something much like the bargaining associations they were originally proposing.

Bargaining associations allow multiple unions to bargain collective agreements together and keep their existing membership. This approach has been used  successfully in British Columbia  and several European countries.

Last year's Bill 1 legislation and the government's refusal to entertain the notion of bargaining associations would have forced many thousands of health care workers to abandon their current union and join a new one.

But in his decision government-appointed arbitrator Jim Dorsey suggests that an “amalgamated successor union” can be fashioned in a manner that respects employees' associational rights as advocated by the unions” while still meeting the spirit of Bill 1.

Such an amalgamated successor union is in many ways a more formalized variation on the idea of bargaining associations.

No wonder many union leaders are pleased.

“What Mr. Dorsey is trying to do is create the great compromise,” UNIFOR Atlantic Director Lana Payne tells the Halifax Media Co-op.

“He has taken what was quite a difficult piece of legislation, and tried to find a compromise that works for all while protecting the constitutional rights of Nova Scotia's health care workers,” says Payne.

Joan Jessome, President of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU), feels vindicated by many of the Dorsey recommendations.

“This is a great day for labour,” said Jessome. "We are very pleased with the outcome. What we have today is a decision that puts a path in place for us to continue to represent members.”

Potentially the amalgamated successor union can be applied to all four bargaining units prescribed in Bill 1. Those units are clerical workers, nurses, health care workers and support workers.

But health care workers and support workers are the most obvious candidates for the collaborative approach, since no one union can claim a clear majority of members in these sectors.

In the case of clerical workers, the NSGEU does have clear majority of workers. The nurses unit is still somewhat up in the air. Numbers are being disputed and the unit for Licensed Practical Nurses remains to be determined.

Both Payne and Jessome expect informal discussions among the four unions to begin very soon.

Jessome doesn't think prior disagreements among unions will affect these discussions.

“What we have today is a decision that puts a path in place for us to continue to represent members,” she says.

Jessome strongly rejects suggestion that today's decision establishes that charter rights were not violated by Bill 1.

She believes that the charter objections to Bill 1 in essence are still valid, but that Dorsey, through his amalgamated union approach, has circumvented them.

She also points out that for obvious reasons Friday's Supreme Court of Canada decision on the RCMP’s right to unionize was not considered by Dorsey.

Much remains to be ironed out. And all implications of the 200-page Dorsey decision need to be fully absorbed.

But for labour it could have been much worse.

“We think this is what we had been fighting for,” says Payne.

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

 


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Topics: LabourHealth
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