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Not a slam dunk for government

A closer look at the Dorsey decision

by Robert Devet

CUPE Nova Scptia Vice President Danny Cavannagh thinks the Dorsey decision represents a significant rebuke to the liberal government. Photo Robert Devet
CUPE Nova Scptia Vice President Danny Cavannagh thinks the Dorsey decision represents a significant rebuke to the liberal government. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK), HALIFAX - "We are happy with this decision. It creates four bargaining units and ensures that all nurses can be represented by one union," said Health and Wellness Minister Leo Glavine in a press release issued shortly after the Dorsey decision went public.

But, as we reported earlier, the 200-page decision isn't that clear-cut.

The idea of four bargaining units was never disputed, labour leaders say, so that's hardly a victory for the government.

And as far as the one union for nurses is concerned, Dorsey states that he doubts whether any one health-care union has the numbers to claim a majority.

Dorsey suggests that in the next arbitration phase, scheduled for early February, the unions explore the idea of amalgamated successor unions for at least some if not all of the four proposed bargaining units.

An amalgamated successor union is a legal entity, with its own bylaws, leadership, and all the legal trimmings, made up of the relevant existing health care unions. Those unions keep their own leadership, members, etc.

“This isn't the slam dunk that the Liberal government wanted,” Danny Cavanagh, regional vice-president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) tells the Halifax Media Co-op.

That collaborative approach to bargaining is really not that different from the bargaining associations all four affected unions were proposing earlier, Cavanagh argues.

At that time the government rejected that idea.

Now Dorsey ruled that response was wrong.

“While the government has the right to wind up district health authorities and dismiss executives and managers in restructuring, it cannot reach across the table and assign new representational rights and responsibilities for independent trade unions or tell employees who will be their bargaining agent,” Dorsey writes.

Dorsey thinks that there is nothing in Bill 1 that forbids the collaborative bargaining approach.

“We could have been off to the races without going through the arbitration process,” Cavannagh says.

Now there is another opportunity for the unions to come up with a collective bargaining structure. More formal than a bargaining association, the so-called amalgamated successor union, will need to encompass all the legal attributes of a bargaining agent.

Cavannagh is eager to make these discussions work. He doesn't think that the divisions that flared up among the health-care unions directly prior and during the Dorsey hearings will linger.

Even through mediation and arbitration CUPE and UNIFOR never abandoned their support for the collaborative bargaining approach, he says, and anyways, it was understood that during the mediation phase each union would do what's best for its members. That's their job.

But when all is said and done, no union wants to lose members, and no union likes divisiveness, he says.

There's also a stick.

We have to make it work, because if we fail Dorsey will carve up our membership,” Cavannagh says.

Two bargaining units, health care and support, are prime candidates for the collaborative approach because not one union holds a majority of members in both the IWK and future provincial health authority.

And majority matters to Dorsey.

“It is the decision making method that permeates our society and is taught to children at an early age as the dominant accepted method of making group decisions,” Dorsey patiently explains. “Informally, gatherings refer to it when deciding such mundane matters as whether to go here or there for a recreation event.”

It appears that neither the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) nor the Nova Scotia Nurses Union holds a clear majority in the nursing bargaining unit in both the IWK Health Centre and the newly created provincial health authority.

Once the number issue has been settled there too an amalgamated union may be the solution. At Monday's press conference Joan Jessome, president of the NSGEU, expressed a willingness to explore that option.

In the clerical bargaining unit the NSGEU, holds a clear majority of members. But even in that scenario a collaborative bargaining approach remains on the table at this very early stage.

The next phase of the arbitration hearings starts on February 2nd. It's not yet known whether the meetings will be open to the public.


Follow Robert Devet on Twitter  @DevetRobert


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Topics: Labour
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FYI: Danny Cavanagh is the

FYI: Danny Cavanagh is the President of CUPE Nova Scotia, Not the Vice President (picture caption) or the Regional Vice President of CUPE (in article).

Who is Danny Cavannagh?

Thanks, Mark,

Maybe he is both President of CUPE Nova Scotia http://novascotia.cupe.ca/executive and Vice President Nova Scotia of CUPE National http://cupe.ca/danny-cavanagh-regional-vice-president-nova-scotia ?

I will ask next time we talk.

I think that's right. -MC

I think that's right. -MC

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