NSGEU and three other unions (CUPE, Unifor and NSNU) who represent workers in the acute care sector in Nova Scotia reached an agreement on March 13 with the Government to form a Council of Unions for the purposes of negotiating collective agreements for healthcare workers.
Those unions represent 24,500 healthcare workers in the province. For the past year, the provincial government used a new law called the Health Authorities Act (HAA) to try and force members from each of the unions and limit which groups each union could represent.
Arbitrator James Dorsey was appointed to implement the requirements of the HAA.
A few weeks ago, after much protest by healthcare workers and two decisions by Arbitrator Dorsey which made it clear he would respect worker’s rights and not assign workers to unions as was intended by Government in Bill 1 (HAA), Premier Stephen McNeil was forced to reach out to the four affected unions and offer a deal.
Instead of trying to take members from their unions, the government would allow all 24,500 healthcare members to stay with their unions, and the unions would bargain four collective agreements, one each for the Health Care, Nursing, Administrative Professional and Support Services bargaining units.
The offer was almost exactly the same as one the unions presented to the McNeil government in August 2014. The government had refused the arrangement at that time, and instead went ahead with the Health Authorities Act.
The NSGEU and other unions are now asking members to vote on whether you support having negotiations conducted by a Council of Unions, which enables all union members to stay with their current unions.
We will be holding four telephone town hall meetings next week to answer any outstanding questions you have about the Health Councils. The meetings are scheduled as follows:
- Support Services: Monday, March 23rd, 6 p.m.
- Nursing (all RNs & LPNs): Monday, March 23rd, 8 p.m.
- Administrative Professionals: Tuesday, March 24th, 6 p.m.
- Health Care: Tuesday, March 24th, 8 p.m.
Frequently Asked Questions: Health Councils
So how exactly does the Council of Unions work?
After receiving the government’s offer, the four unions sat down and worked out a constitution that would set ground rules for how the Councils would operate. There are four Councils: one for Health Care, Nursing, Administrative Professionals and Support Services. They operate in the same way with the same constitutions.
Each Council has two main purposes:
- They negotiate contracts for each of the four bargaining units at both the IWK and the newly established Provincial Health Authority;
- They will negotiate the essential services agreements required before any future job action or strike can take place.
It is important to note that each union will continue to represent their current membership as they do now for every other aspect of labour relations including the filing of grievances, college complaints, and pension and benefit discussions that take place outside of bargaining.
How will bargaining work?
There will four collective agreements for health care workers across the province and at the IWK; one each for Administrative Professionals, Support Services, Nursing and Healthcare. The Council will negotiate each of these agreements.
How will we determine who is on the bargaining committees?
Each union will appoint negotiators for the four sectors as follows:
- Nursing Bargaining – NSNU will appoint the chief negotiator, NSGEU will appoint the deputy chief negotiator;
- Healthcare Bargaining – NSGEU will appoint the chief negotiator, Cupe will appoint the deputy chief negotiator;
- Administrative Professionals Bargaining – CUPE will appoint the chief negotiator, NSGEU will appoint the deputy chief negotiator; and
- Support Services Bargaining – Unifor will appoint the chief negotiator, NSGEU will appoint the deputy chief negotiator.
The two unions with the largest membership in each sector will appoint a chair of the bargaining committee. That means NSGEU will have bargaining co-chairs in all four bargaining units.
Finally, and very importantly, the number of members on each bargaining committee will be proportional to the number of members each union has in each of the four bargaining units.
So, NSGEU will have the most members on the Administrative Professionals, Support Services and Healthcare bargaining committees and the second most members on the Nursing bargaining committee.
For the NSGEU, the bargaining committees and co-chairs are elected from the membership.
The number of people from each union who will form the bargaining committees will be based on the proportion of members that each union has.
Does this mean I will lose some of my current rights & benefits, because the new “lead” union may favour their own contract language?
No. Arbitrator Dorsey’s order that all existing collective agreements be stapled together and then taken into bargaining means that all current benefits will continue until negotiations are complete. The NSGEU will be play a strong role at each bargaining table, and will continue to bargain hard to ensure all workers maintain the best possible contract language.
Will the groups that were to be moved out of Health Care (to Support Services or Administrative Professionals) still be moved? If so, which union will represent them?
Yes. The government did not wish to renegotiate the order from Mr. Dorsey that saw many people move from one bargaining unit to another. That order was based on requirements passed by the province in its Health Authorities Act last fall.
During the arbitration process, the NSGEU argued that all positions remain where they were. Unfortunately, the arbitrator and employer did not agree, and positions are being moved into the Support Services and Administrative Professional groupings as of April 1, 2015.
However, if you are currently an NSGEU member, you will remain an NSGEU member, no matter what grouping you fall under. If you are unsure about which bargaining unit you will be in as of April 1st, 2015, please call the NSGEU at 902-424-4063 (toll-free 1-877-556-7438).
I’ve been moved out of Health Care and into Support Services. Which contract will I be covered by?
All workers will be covered by their current collective agreement until a new contract can be negotiated for your bargaining unit.
So, if you are a Unit Aide who has been moved to the Support Services, for example, your current contract provisions remain in place until a new contract is negotiated for the Support Services Bargaining Unit. Given that the government also passed a law requiring complex essential services negotiations, it is unlikely negotiations will begin until later this year.
Which union will I call if I have an issue at work, and need to file a grievance, etc…?
If you currently belong to the NSGEU, you will call us! The key component to the Health Council structure is that all members get to stay with their current union.
What am I being asked to vote on?
We are asking affected members to vote in support of Health Councils. We are holding an electronic/telephone vote starting Wednesday, March 25th, and running until Wednesday, April 1st at 5 p.m.
The ballot will read: “Are you in favour of the NSGEU negotiating as part of a Council of Unions for collective bargaining with the Provincial Health Authority and the IWK Health Centre?”
How can I vote?
If we have an email address on file for you, you should receive an email with voting instructions and a PIN code. If we do not have your email address on file, a package will be mailed to you with voting instructions and a PIN code. The PIN code ensures the voting process is secure. You will have the option to vote online or over the phone.
If you do not receive an email or package by mail with voting instructions and a PIN by noon on Wednesday, March 25th, please call our voting help desk between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday, or 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Call 902-424-4063 (toll-free 1-877-556-7438).