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Health Care Bargaining Update, August 8, 2018

Following five days of mediation, (July 30-August 3) Mediator / Arbitrator William Kaplan issued an award today (click here to view and download the full award), Wednesday August 8, 2018, which finally establishes a collective agreement for more than 6,000 employees in the Health Care Bargaining Unit at the NSHA and the IWK.

The process leading to this arbitration award began in October of 2016 when the Council of Health Care Unions began negotiations on a province-wide collective agreement. The Council, made up of bargaining committee members from NSGEU, CUPE and Unifor, were required by legislation to negotiate 16 collective agreements down to one each for the IWK and NSHA.

The Council held more than 50 negotiating sessions with employer representatives over almost two years. The parties had agreed in May of 2018 that any outstanding issues would be sent to Mr. Kaplan to decide.

Today Mr. Kaplan issued his award completing the process and establishing new collective agreements for Health Care. The Support Services, Administrative Professional and Nursing Bargaining units will now begin their bargaining. Mr. Kaplan will return in the Fall to decide any outstanding issues at those tables.

Please note the following very important information:

  1. All monetary improvements in this new collective agreement will become effective the date of the award except for those where the agreement specifies a different date. For example, some wage increases are retroactive to 2015 and some will not take place until some point in the future.
  2. All other provisions including all language changes will not take effect until October 8, 2018, unless otherwise specified in the award. This is necessary to allow members and the Employers to prepare for the changes required. During this time, the transitional collective agreements that members have operated under since 2011, will remain in effect.
  3. Mr. Kaplan has not yet awarded rates for shift and weekend premiums. The Employer is proposing no increases in premiums while the Council has proposed an increase of $1.15 an hour for each premium. Mr. Kaplan has indicated he will issue this award on August 15.

Highlights of key improvements

  • Keep existing sick leave plans – including public health, addictions, and continuing care
  • Pay out of retirement allowances
  • Maintained existing NSGEU Local 42 language
  • Improved job security and reassignment provisions
  • Maintained modified work week
  • Those that take jobs from NSHA to IWK and vis versa will take their seniority with them
  • Reduced probationary period
  • Creation of Holiday and Overtime Banks and new language to make vacation carryover easier
  • Province-wide job postings for all NSHA employees
  • Increased standby pay
  • Starting 2019 members will be allowed two vacation picks a year, rather than one
  • Increase in leave for birth of a child or adoption from 7.5 hours to 15
  • Following probationary period members are eligible for maternity/paternity/adoption leave top up, previously not eligible for a year

A Long and Historic Round of Bargaining

This round of bargaining for the Health Care Bargaining Unit was the most unique in Nova Scotia history.

Government legislation restricted wage increases and froze and ended retirement allowances. Other government legislation created two employers, the NSHA and the IWK, and required CUPE, NSGEU and Unifor to negotiate a single province-wide agreement for all their members.

And the government introduced legislation requiring that health care workers 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 face of all this, your bargaining committee began negotiations in the fall of 2016. For two years the employers made every effort to use their legislated upper hand to attempt to claw back rights and benefits from NSGEU members.

Your committee remained steadfast in their refusal to concede benefits that members had fought for and gained over the previous 40 years.

In the spring of 2018, your employers tabled proposals to take away even more rights and benefits. They proposed things such as eliminating the Short Term Illness plan, the right for the employers to unilaterally change benefits without union approval and the right to transfer employees anywhere in the province, temporarily or even permanently.

The Council of Health Care Unions then undertook a strategy to ratchet up the pressure on the provincial government and the employers in 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 1, 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 the 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.

Then on July 27, Mr. Kaplan began the mediation / arbitration. During this time, Mr. Kaplan decided upon the remaining outstanding issues. His award, which can be found here (link) established the final collective agreements for all health care bargaining unit workers at the NSHA and the IWK.

The Council used the former NSGEU Local 42 collective agreement as its base agreement for the purposes of the negotiations. As a result, we were able to achieve keeping almost all existing Local 42 language. This language largely mirrored NSGEU language in Public Health, Addictions and Continuing Care collective agreements and the former Local 22 agreement at the IWK.

The mediation/arbitration agreements established the 6 year term (with just over two years left), the payout option for accrued retirement allowances, the protection of the status quo both for existing sick leave plans and cost sharing for retiree benefits and the wage increases as follows:

  • 1% on November 1, 2016
  • 1.5% on November 1, 2017
  • 0.5% on October 31, 2018
  • 1.5% on November 1, 2018
  • 0.5% on October 31, 2019
  • 1.5% on November 1, 2019
  • 0.5% on October 31, 2020

Important: Increases for members who work in Public Health, Addictions Services and Continuing Care in the Western, Eastern and Northern Zones are in effect on March 31 of each year. This is based on the expiry date of their current Collective Agreement.

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