Nova Scotia unions welcome Bill 1 decision

by Shay Enxuga

Today Arbitrator James Dorsey released his initial decision regarding Bill 1, the Health Authorities Act, and addressed some of issues at the heart of the controversy surrounding the legislation – union representation.

Bill 1 protest
Bill 1 protest

Bill 1, introduced by the McNeil Liberals on October 3, 2014, radically restructures health care in Nova Scotia by merging the nine existing district health authorities into one, and merging the 50 previous bargaining units into just four: nurses, healthcare, administrative support, and service support with four collective agreements.

Bargaining association
During the summer, all four healthcare unions worked together to propose a bargaining association model that would allow all of the unions to retain their membership while bargaining collectively. Today, Dorsey proposed the formation of an amalgamated healthcare union which would bargain collectively on behalf of healthcare workers.

“We’re please because he has ordered the ability to create what we believe is a collaborative bargaining structure that would include multiple unions being part of that and this is really what we’d been arguing for all along,” says Lana Payne, Atlantic Regional Director of Unifor.

Under the proposed model, 3 of the 4 bargaining units (healthcare, clerical, and support) would amalgamate to a provincial entity that would then bargain collectively on behalf of workers while all four unions retained their membership.

This proposal significantly lessens the destructive impact of Bill 1, which was, for all intents and purposes, meant to arbitrate workers into unions. Without violating the trade union act or the legislation, Dorsey has put forward an alternative which balances the unions desire to retain their membership while continuing to honour the government’s intention of streamlining healthcare.

Payne welcomed the proposal as a “made in Nova Scotia solution” that manages to “avoid clear division in workplaces which really is what happens when you end up with run off vote or massive carving up of members from one union to another.”

“We’ve really been able to push the envelope. I think that the Nova Scotia government should be proud of some of the outcomes here because, as I say, this really is a big compromise. For him to be able to take what was a complex piece of legislation and craft a solution like this, I think this arbitrator needs to be commended for that.”

Joan Jessome, President of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Unions (NSGEU), also welcomed this “union of unions,” and stated that, “It’s better than we could have ever hoped for as far as what he had to work with in the legislation. I could have been saying goodbye to 9,000 members instead of saying let’s negotiate a process that lets you stay where you’re at. That’s in the best interest of them and of the public they serve, too.”

Under the proposed model, 3 of the 4 bargaining units (healthcare, clerical, and support) would amalgamate to a provincial entity that would then bargain collectively on behalf of workers while all four unions retained their membership.

Unresolved issues

trade unionists blockade the premier's car during Bill 1 protests
trade unionists blockade the premier’s car during Bill 1 protests

However, the issue of LPNs and RNs within the nursing bargaining unit remains unresolved and it seems possible that the matter may be decided by a vote.

The major factor yet to be determined is which union represents a majority of nurses. Janet Hazelton, President of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union (NSNU), states Dorsey has asked several questions of the provincial government regarding whether or nor the Provincial Health Authority and the IWK will function as one employer at the bargaining table and whether or not they intended LPNs to be included in the nurses bargaining unit.

As well, “generic positions”, or, “positions that may be filled by a nurse but don’t have to be filled by a nurse,” have been removed from the nurses bargaining unit, according to Hazelton.

“All of these things change the numbers to get that majority rule,” says Hazelton, “So all that’s to say, there’s some questions that need to be answered before the decision of where the nurses are going to be is made clear.”

Dorsey has posed questions to the government and the employer (HANS).

A second round of arbitration will take place from February 2 to 6, 2015.

CUPE was unavailable for comment.

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