Acute Care Bargaining Strategy Session

*This article appears in the latest issue of the Union Stand.

On Tuesday, October 13th, a group of NSGEU health care members gathered at the NSGEU office to start preparing for the upcoming round of health care bargaining.

These members were elected by their colleagues to represent them at one of four bargaining tables: Administrative Professional, Support Services, Nursing, and Health Care.

The day started with an opening address from NSGEU President Jason MacLean, who talked about the political climate we face going into bargaining with Premier Stephen McNeil stepping down in February. He pointed out that historically, no provincial government in Nova Scotia that has gone onto a fifth year of their mandate has gotten re-elected in the following election, and that we have yet to see how each of the three Liberal leadership candidates will approach labour relations and collective bargaining.

With many collective agreements due to expire within six months, we have to consider the political landscape: in the Spring, the Premier said that we have a $850 million deficit, and that the public sector “has to play its part.”

However, our economic picture looks a bit better than expected after a summer of low COVID numbers, and the provincial Liberals are now in a different state. They are only holding onto their majority by one seat. With the Premier stepping down, will they maintain their historically right-wing stance, or try and go left and create relationships with labour groups?
Regardless of the political climate, MacLean emphasized “it’s very important that we remain focused on advancing our collective agreements and making them better.”

NSGEU Executive Director Robin MacLean pointed out that all of the health care agreements expire on October 31st, 2020, and after seven years of government austerity and wage restraint, it will be fair to say we’ll be looking for a better wage package this time.

But, as she pointed out, bargaining isn’t just about wages. She called on the committee members to review surveys from last round of bargaining to see how they can be improved for this round.
She noted that although she saw some familiar faces in the room, this will be a very different round of bargaining due to the amalgamation to health authorities and the creation of the bargaining councils with other unions.

Finally, Shawn Fuller, Director of Negotiations & Servicing, took the mic to discuss what he expects during this round of bargaining.

This time around, he is hoping the process will be less complicated than last, as we won’t be trying to combine 55 collective agreements into four.
However, he spoke in detail about the national bargaining picture:

• Quebec-West is a complete mess, both due to COVID and from a political perspective. These governments have been clawing back benefits and legislating wage patterns;
• Manitoba is not allowing more than 10 people in social gatherings, and while workplaces are an exception to that rule, unions are excluded from that: they are not allowed to meet with more than 10 members;
• In Alberta, civil servants have been forced to take five days off without pay and they’ve brought in legislation to privatize support services;
• PEI was expecting a small increase for their health care bargaining unit of 1.5 to 2 per cent;
• Newfoundland settled in advance of COVID, essentially extending the current collective agreement and achieving a deal that was extended to entire public sector, with wage increases of 2 per cent, 1 per cent and 1 per cent.

Fuller noted that in the wake of COVID, most unions are now considering new clauses related to working from home, and suggested that committee members may want to consider this while developing bargaining surveys.

Finally, the four bargaining groups broke off to review bargaining surveys from last round, and develop the survey questions to send to the members this round.
If you are a member of one of the acute health care bargaining units, please keep an eye out for your surveys, which should be coming out shortly. It’s very important your committee members have your input for the next round of negotiations: they need to know what matters to you!

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