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Shedding Light on Labour Disputes

St. Mary's profs look for ways to inform public on labour-management disputes

by Ben Sichel

Judy Haiven speaks at the Halifax Media Co-op's "The State of our Unions" event last month. (Photo: Palmira Boutilier)
Judy Haiven speaks at the Halifax Media Co-op's "The State of our Unions" event last month. (Photo: Palmira Boutilier)

Health care workers, university professors, water commission workers, beer bottlers, and of course, bus drivers: these are just some of those recently or currently embroiled in contract negotiations in Nova Scotia. Bargaining can be tense, and emotions can run high, both for those directly involved, and those – like bus riders – who are indirectly affected.

Judy Haiven wants to de-mystify labour-management disputes for the general public. She speaks in a panel discussion this Monday night with Larry Haiven and Johanna Weststar, all specialists in labour relations in St. Mary’s University’s management department.

“We think we are on the cusp of seeing more labour disputes,” says Haiven. “[P]eople have suffered for a long time. Their wages have not kept up with inflation.”

Workers are “fed up with CEOs in Canada earning more than 189 times the average industrial wage,” she adds.

Haiven finds disconcerting the apparent negative backlash against HRM’s transit workers on Internet comment boards and newspapers’ letters pages.

“It’s upsetting to see that people feel that transit workers, or workers in unions, or any workers, don’t deserve to earn a decent living…We cannot have a race to the bottom.

“Some people begrudge transit workers decent wages and working conditions. Why is that?”

Haiven, Haiven and Weststar will attempt to explain the causes of the current unrest, the processes of labour negotiation and dispute resolution, and the basic nature of relations between workers and managers.

The panel will be moderated by Tim Bousquet, news editor at The Coast, who has written numerous articles on the current Metro Transit strike.

Most news media have done a “rather predictable” job in reporting on current labour issues, Haiven says. “They tend to blame the workers and not examine what management has done to spark the disruption.

“In the case of the transit workers, HRM has placed advertisements in the Chronicle-Herald which cost tens of thousands of our dollars. And much of what is in the advertisements is not exactly true.”

According to Haiven, all workers – even the non-unionized majority – are affected by the current negotiations.

“[W]ithout better settlements by unionized workers, all workers will be at a disadvantage,” she says.

"Everything you always wanted to know about labour-management disputes....But were afraid to ask" will be held in room 101 of the Atrium Building, St. Mary's University, Monday, March 5th from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

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