This round of bargaining for health care workers – which includes Health Care, Administrative Professionals, Nursing and Support Services – was the most unique in our province’s history.
Government legislation restricted wage increases and froze, then ended, retirement allowances. Another piece of government legislation created two employers, the NSHA and the IWK, and required NSGEU, NSNU, CUPE and Unifor to combine all collective agreements into one each for the IWK and NSHA for each bargaining unit.
Finally, the government introduced legislation requiring that all union members working at the NSHA and the IWK negotiate very complex province-wide essential services plans that ensured large numbers of members remain at work in the event of a strike.
In the spring of 2018, the Council of Health Care Unions undertook a strategy to ratchet up the pressure on the provincial government and the employers in an attempt to level the playing field in bargaining. This strategy required the unwavering support of health care workers in three unions across the province. In April, the Council announced it was conducting the first ever province-wide strike vote in health care. The memberships responded with overwhelming support: On May 1st, members voted 93 per cent in favour of strike action. That vote was the key turning point.
Shortly after that, the Council referred disputes under the IWK Essential Services agreement to the Labour Board for resolution. Outstanding work by IWK members led to a settlement that meant that only 35 per cent of IWK members would remain at work in the event of a strike.
The very real possibility of an effective strike at the IWK and the impending possibility of a strike at the NSHA caused the province to propose mediation/arbitration with William Kaplan as a means to settling all four health care collective agreements at the NSHA and the IWK. The mediation/arbitration agreement also established the wages for the new collective agreement, froze the retirement allowance pending a court challenge by the Unions, provided an option for payout of existing retirement allowance accruals and ensured the protection of existing sick and retiree benefit agreements for all members.
The mediation/arbitration proposal was ratified by 92 per cent of members in all four bargaining units across all four unions (NSGEU, NSNU, CUPE and Unifor).
The parties re-entered negotiations following the ratification and the Council began to make real and important progress on your behalf.
On July 27th, Mr. Kaplan began the mediation/arbitration for the Council of Health Care Unions. During this time, Mr. Kaplan decided upon the remaining outstanding issues. His award established the final collective agreements for all Health Care bargaining unit workers at the NSHA and the IWK.
The Health Care collective agreement and Mr. Kaplan’s award was essentially used as a base agreement for the other three bargaining units for the purposes of the negotiations. The Kaplan award announcing the completion of the Nursing and Support Services collective agreements now completes this very difficult and arduous process. NSGEU members came through this challenge and retained all of the very important key collective agreement provisions they fought so hard for the last 40 years.