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Bargaining: A look ahead

Many contracts now open, NSGEU staff and bargaining committees prepare for tough round of negotiations ahead.

The NSGEU represents almost 30,000 members working in an incredibly wide variety of sectors and settings: from government and education to acute and community health care. These workers belong to 99 separate locals, which are all governed by their own collective agreement, or contract. Currently, more than three quarters of those collective agreements are “open,” which means that they need to be renegotiated (it’s important to note that while a contract is “open,” your rights and benefits remain in place until a new agreement is reached).

The Liberal government has already intervened during our negotiations for home support workers and registered nurses last year, and has strongly hinted that they will be aiming for wage freezes and possible legislation that would diminish our members’ job security and benefits. So, we fully expect the next round of bargaining will be an arduous task.

But we are no strangers to bargaining with difficult governments, and are preparing for some tough rounds at the bargaining table, with a team of skilled negotiators on-staff to assist our bargaining committees.

Here is where we are with bargaining in our various sectors:

CIVIL SERVICE

On May 8th, members of the Bargaining Unit Negotiating Council (BUNC) met to begin discussions surrounding upcoming bargaining issues. They spent a lot of time talking about recent cuts and layoffs that have taken place throughout the province, the value of their current layoff provisions, and the contracting out of services.

Members are quite concerned about the next round of negotiations with this government, especially since they have indicated they are considering legislating away the public service award, removing an important job security provision (the “Memorandum of Agreement #2”), and bringing in wage restraint, and possibly even wage freezes.

Bargaining surveys have been completed and BUNC met at the NSGEU office last fall to discuss key issues. The Union Negotiating Committee (UNC) met with staff over the winter for initial discussions, and we are now working with the employer to set dates to exchange bargaining proposals.

ACUTE HEALTH CARE

Acute Healthcare Bargaining unit members at NSGEU spent the last year and a half battling the McNeil government’s various forms of legislation including Bill 37, which imposed Essential Services requirements upon Acute Healthcare workers and Bill 1, which attempted to force 9,000 health care workers out of the NSGEU and into another union.

While court challenges on Bill 37 remain to be fought, the union was very successful in retaining its membership in the face of Bill 1.  This was thanks in large part to decisions made by arbitrator James Dorsey. Mr. Dorsey recognized the true intent of Bill 1 was to weaken NSGEU, and he made it impossible for the government to accomplish its objective. In the end, all acute health care workers were reorganized into four bargaining councils: Administrative Professional, Nursing, Health Care, and Support Services. Each of these councils will bargain their respective collective agreements for all 25,000 workers across the province.

Since the Dorsey decision and the subsequent creation of the Councils, the four involved unions (NSGEU, CUPE, Unifor and NSNU) have met on more than ten occasions in an effort to prepare for bargaining a single Collective Agreement. These discussions and meetings will continue throughout the summer and early fall.

In the meantime, the NSGEU has elected its representatives to each of the four Bargaining Committees. Those representatives will meet again in September to prepare proposals based on the work now being undertaken by union staff.

While an enormous amount of work lies ahead for each of the bargaining committees, the representatives seemed ready to take on the challenge. The bargaining committees will begin meeting on September 21st and 22nd for training and to prepare bargaining surveys.

Once proposals are formed, they will be brought to each of the individual Bargaining Councils, who will discuss them and prepare final proposals for bargaining.

At the same time, the Councils in each of the four Bargaining Units must begin Essential Services negotiations, as required by government’s own legislation: Bill 37.

The Councils’ Essential Services Committees met with the employer on July 8th.  During that meeting, the union representatives proposed beginning discussions and negotiations on the framework agreements related to Essential Services. These framework agreements form the rules in the event a strike should take place. For example: the framework agreements would determine how disputes are resolved; what would happen if staffing levels are too high or too low; what rights union members who remain at work would have under the collective agreements; and so on.  During this meeting, the employer indicated it was not yet ready to present a staffing plan for each of the four Bargaining Units across the province in the event of a strike, and asked the unions to be patient as it prepared that work.

It is also clear from public announcements by the Premier and other government officials that the Province will attempt to get rid of key collective agreement provisions, including freezing retirement allowances and wages, during this next round of bargaining. It is quite likely, given their track record, that this government will legislate these issues rather than attempt to fairly negotiate them at the bargaining table. If that happens, it will likely take place in the late fall.

COMMUNITY HEALTH CARE

(includes Home Support, Long Term Care Facilities, Group/Small Options Homes):

 

Many of our group homes, home support and long-term care contracts are also “open,” and while staff and bargaining committees have come together to prepare for bargaining, we are faced with developing essential service plans for each, as per the Liberal government’s Bill 37.

Bill 37 not only affects workers in the acute health care sector, but those working in long-term care, residential care facilities, adult residential centres, group homes, EHS communications/dispatch, ambulance services, home support, and child protection/child residential services.

Similar to the work that must be done in the acute health care sector, the union must work with each of the employers to negotiate Essential Service staffing levels, which would determine what will happen in the event bargaining breaks down and we are forced into a strike position: we would need to determine how disputes are resolved during a strike; what would happen if staffing levels are too high or too low; what rights union members who remain at work would have under the collective agreements; and so on.

Bargaining committees have been elected for each local in Home Support, Long Term Care and Group Homes. In the early fall, the bargaining committees for each group will come together at the NSGEU office for bargaining strategy sessions as follows:

  • Home Support: September 14, 2015
  • Long-Term Care: September 15, 2015
  • Group Homes: September 16, 2015

At the strategy sessions, the bargaining committees will discuss current issues in their locals and design bargaining input surveys. Afterwards, bargaining input surveys will be sent to all members in the sector and the bargaining committees will begin preparations to go to the bargaining table with their employers.

 

EDUCATION

(Schools, Universities, NSCC):

In late April, the Liberal government passed Bill 100, The Universities Accountability and Sustainability Act. This piece of legislation severely restricts the rights of unions (and their members) working in post-secondary education, by allowing university administrators to declare financial emergency and nullify the respective union’s ability to bargain collectively or to strike.

Here’s how it works: a university’s Board of Governors would notify the government that they have a “significant operating deficiency,” which may initiate a “revitalization planning process.” Once that process has been initiated, all unionized workers at that institution would be banned from striking for one year.

This type of legislation is the first of its kind in the country, and has been soundly criticized by Opposition parties, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), and involved unions. The NSGEU was successful, along with other unions, in achieving some amendments to Bill 100. These amendments go towards mitigating the worst effects of the legislation.

So far, in 2015, new tentative collective agreements have been ratified by Local 92 (Dalhousie University/Agricultural Campus) and Local 99 (Dalhousie University Trades/Occupational Support). The Local 77 (Dalhousie University Administrative Professional, Library & IT) bargaining committee is close to achieving a tentative agreement.

Bargaining is already underway for Local 88 (St. FX) and preparations have started for Local 79 (SMU) and Local 81 (MSVU). Local 82 (NSCAD) will begin bargaining in 2016.

Preparations for bargaining for Local 267 (NSCC) will likely begin once NSGEU ascertains the landscape for Civil Service and Post-Secondary bargaining.

Collective agreements for most NSGEU school board locals expired in the spring of 2015 (Local 71 – CCRSB; Local 70 – SSRSB; Local 72 – CSAP; Local 73 – AVRSB; Local 74 – TCRSB). At the school board locals’ bargaining strategy session, which was held in January 2015, the bargaining committees for the respective locals developed bargaining input surveys. The surveys have been sent to the members, reviewed and analyzed, and will guide the bargaining committees in their preparations for bargaining, which will start this fall.

The collective agreement of Local 53 (HRSB) does not expire until September 2016, so bargaining will not start for that Local for another 15 months at least.

The NSGEU represents members who work for most school boards in Nova Scotia, in a variety of occupations, including Administrative Assistants, Education Assistants, Library and IT employees, as well as Student Support Workers. The NSGEU also represents members who work as school bus drivers and are employed by Stock Transportation, which has the contract for school busing for the HRSB and the CSAP. The collective agreements for these locals expire in 2016.

Local 80 (APSEA) is currently negotiating for the renewal of their collective agreement. Talks will continue this summer and hopefully a tentative agreement will be reached early in the fall.

OTHER

The NSGEU represents several locals of members who work for employers that were former divisions of the provincial government (for example, Local 46 – Property Valuation Services Corporation; Local 44 – Nova Scotia Business Inc.; and Local 48 – the Pensions Services Corporation), as well as the Workers’ Compensation Board of N.S. (Local 55).

While Local 48 concluded its collective agreement in late 2014, the other locals will begin preparation for bargaining in the fall of 2015.

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