Union Matters: Happy New Year!

This week, we sit down with NSGEU President Jason MacLean to talk about some of the highlights from 2018, and what union members have to look forward to in the New Year!

See below for a full transcript of this week’s podcast:

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode Union Matters, NSGEU’s weekly podcast. I’m your host this week, Holly Fraughton and I’m joined by here today by Jason MacLean, President of the NSGEU. Welcome, Jason.

JM Hello, Holly, how are you doing?

HF Good, thanks. So we are now nearing the end of 2018 and are about to start a brand new year. What a year it’s been! Looking back at 2018, what would you say are some of the highlights have been for us as a union, Jason?

JM A highlight was putting an end to a lot of our collective agreements. I say that because ending 2017 we had arbitration with our civil service and that really opened up the door for us to get moving on bargaining with other groups. A major point is through the 4 health care bargaining units — coming to closure on those. And, really, seeing what government was about and what they were trying to do, because we dealt with all the bills that they came with in the years prior, so I just found that this year was government, I believe, coming to a reckoning that — they made a mess in bargaining and really, I’m not saying that they tried to reconcile what they’ve done, but they really turned a page where they didn’t want any more trouble in labour because it was getting old and it wasn’t helping them do anything positive within Nova Scotia. Not that they have done much positive within Nova Scotia since, but they couldn’t move forward with any type of agenda when they still had things lingering from 4 and 5 years ago.

HF Yeah, especially health care bargaining. That’s been really dragging on and as a result of government inaction and I guess it kind of been a real slog for negotiators at the table this year but now that’s all concluded, that’s all wrapped up.

JM Yeah, so those sectors or are gone now and we’re in our group home sectors, we’re in the home care sector, we’re really getting things done. All our school boards are concluded and things are moving very well now. But it’s not without its challenges. We had a lot of employers that didn’t get the memo and at the tables we’ve had — I’ll leave it at that because it’s a question you have on the biggest challenges.

HF Looking back at the last year, what would you say have been some of the highlights for us as a union, Jason?

JM Well, the highlights would be it was our 60th anniversary and we celebrated! We had province-wide events. We had events in Cape Breton at Two Rivers, we had an event at Upper Clements Park. We had events straight across the province that were well attended and it was a fun time to be celebrating our 60th after all the negativity we’ve dealt with through the years. So of the highlight of 2018 was coming out of the darkness of 2017 and before then since the liberals came in.

HF That was really what it felt like. It has been a different year for us because, since the Liberals were elected in 2013, the union’s kind of been in a defensive mode. We’ve been playing defence a lot trying to protect our members from a government that’s been trying to take things away from them, really. It felt like that toned down a bit this year. Do you think that’s true?

JM Yes, I think the effect was because of what NSGEU has done. When the Board of Directors came on two and a half years ago, the Executive Committee talked to the Board of Directors and said, “We want to do a branding campaign. We want to show people who NSGEU is and our diversity.” I think that worked out in our favour. People now look at NSGEU as their neighbour, their friend, the person that coaches the hockey game, the person that sits next to them in church. That’s how NSGEU is viewed. And when we come with issues, we stopped coming with a problem and exposing a problem. What we started to do is exposing a problem and giving some alternatives, some solutions to these problems that we felt were attainable. So, I do believe that when people are hearing things from NSGEU now, they’re kind of leaning in. And I think that really sat home with the government, because now they’re not about having fights with us, they’re actually trying to work with us, and that’s what we were asking for in the beginning. We’ve achieved that! When I look at the last year we’ve had a few headlines that we went into, but it was only because we have to take on an issue and government has learned since then that a quieter news cycle is one that doesn’t have the public sector worker involved in it. We are from one end of the province to the other. They don’t need that type of negativity. What they’ve been doing is working with us on some issues and I would love for the public never to hear from NSGEU, as long as we’re getting the work done. So that’s been a highlight of this year.

HF I think people, too, get tired of hearing negative things coming from government, from anybody, really, but the negative approach that government has taken to labour relations seems to be tiring with people. That’s just my point of view. What would you say were some of the low points or challenges we faced in 2018 as a union?

JM The challenges are when there’s actual, real safety issues. We’ve had huge safety issues in Waterville Youth Correctional Facility, in the Burnside Correctional Facility, in the East Coast Forensic Hospital, in the sick building in Pictou County. When you try to get the right thing done and you’re given lip service, you really have to go public with stuff. In the instance where we had our nurse that was pregnant attacked in the East Coast Forensic Hospital, we reached out to the employer, and the employer said, “Don’t worry, we got this.” We had to say “No, you don’t got this” because they were doing nothing for it. What we’ve done is gotten employers’ attention and what we have now is more and more employers signing on to work with us on issues that we’re bringing up. We don’t want to bring it out to the public, they know we want to do what the right thing is for the workplace. A lot of times it’s a struggle with them, with what they want to do and what their budget is, but I’ve learned how to reach out to government, too, and talk to those that really should be involved in something that’s an issue and to let them know we’re going to bring it somewhere.

HF In all of those cases, what it boils down to is the bottom line. It’s really a matter of making different government agencies spend the money that it takes to make workplaces safe. It’s hard. We get pushback every time. It’s a difficult thing for us to do to hold them accountable. We’ve been doing that a lot this year. There’s been a few between the deputy sheriffs, etc. It’s been a busy year on the safety front. What about on a personal level? What was 2018 all about for you, Jason MacLean, not the president, but just Jason?

JM Personal growth. Who doesn’t want to be a better husband and a better father? Also, to learn the role as president. To make that transition into ‘working with.’  I spent a lot of time, years before, just establishing this is NSGEU. We didn’t skip a beat, here we go! This year it was about solidifying the relationship with the employers, solidifying relationships with government where need be. The personal growth has been huge for me this year. I’m proud to be doing the work, but you do all that and you need to maintain a home life as well. To be that person that’s that versatile and to have the acceptance of your family, for me, it rings success for me. It’s been a very good year, a very busy year, but very good in terms of my personal life, as well as my professional life. They’re both well right now.

HF It’s all about striking that balance, right? Looking ahead to 2019, what are you most looking forward to?

JM I’m looking forward to NSGEU to continue to kick some butt. To just get out there and be proud of who we are. When I came in as president I said I didn’t want people to be apologetic that they have a pension, to be apologetic that they make a certain wage. To be proud that they are a union member, because it is being a union member and being active in the union and actually having a say in the workplace that makes your workplace a better place. We spend so much of our lives there. I want to continue on that. There’s a couple of things in home care. I would love to see a regulatory body in home care, so we’re going to be pushing for that. What we’d like to do is go on with some challenges that I foresee we’re going to have in the education sector. And we’ll keep pushing back on that. But also we have certain sectors that I believe are under pressure, for instance, child protection. And finally, we have government being receptive to changes that need to happen. I’m really looking forward to this year. We had a sitting and everybody says this “You’re talking politics again!” well, politics rules our life. Politics doesn’t only rule our life through legislation and whatever regulations they come with, but it also rules our life, our work lives, because NSGEU members, for the majority, are public sector workers. Our wages, our ability to be able to do our jobs come from whatever budgets are given to us from certain departments. So, we had a nothing session this last session in government. There were a few things that went through, but nothing very pressing that was trouble. I do foresee some issues with the education sector when it comes to criminal record checks and stuff like that. We’re reaching out to government and having those conversations, but we’re having those conversations now. We weren’t having those conversations before. What we were doing was fighting stuff. We’re not on our heels. We’re on the balls of our feet and can pre=plan for what’s coming in the future. I’m just looking forward to taking on what we need to take on for the betterment of the membership and the betterment of Nova Scotians.

HF Speaking of politics, we have two things coming up next year. We have our own convention coming up, which is happening in May, which is exciting. And we also have potentially a federal election coming up in the fall. We are heading into another political year.

JM Absolutely. You see what’s going on. And something that has effected people and I don’t think they realize it is the change in legislation with the legalization of marijuana. That was a huge thing that happened for the NSLC that happened for what monies are going to come into the coffers of government, so we’re looking at a government that’s going to be making more money than they’ve ever had before, so there can be, I believe, enhanced systems out there for people that need government assistance or whatever.

HF Let’s hope they invest that money in the right places.

JM And then you’re going to see changes with the edibles coming out next year. You’re going to see, I think, somewhat of a sunny ways budget coming out. I’ve heard rumour, I don’t know if it’s true, it may be by the time we put this podcast out, but I’m hearing February 28 is when this government’s coming back, so if that’s the case they’re going to be in for a week or two and then go on March break, because the house isn’t in, and then we’re going to have budget after March break. We’re in high gear right now trying to deal with things that are coming up and whatever projections that are there, we’re just looking forward to it. One thing I do hope is that government isn’t coming with more promises for 2020 and 2021, because everything is 2020 and 2021. We need to see improvements now, today, in our health care. We need to see stuff: mental health. We need to see stuff. It’s great that they’re starting roads next year, but that’s still the end of next year. We do need a safer Nova Scotia, so I would never bah humbug people getting around safely.

HF It’s true! It’s important around this time of year especially! What about goals for the union for the coming year? Anything specific you have on the agenda?

JM We have a strategic plan we’ll be rolling out early in the New Year after the first Board meeting we have. It’s almost finalized. What that’s going to do is be able to move forward with the priorities that were already set out from last convention. Some stuff that we have satisfied or that asked us to do the work and project for it, but we have to be careful coming with that strategic plan because we do have another convention coming up. We have a forever moving post with convention. The highlight of this spring will be the strategic plan and then the ability to marry that with whatever comes out of convention. In convention we will have a slew of resolutions, both constitutional and general that we’ll have to, the new Executive and the new Board coming in next year, they will have to take those tasks and complete them before the next convention. So these are things that are quite exciting. Also I can mention we’re going to have the election of the Executive Committee: President, 1st Vice-President, 2nd Vice-President, 3rd Vice-President, Secretary-Treasurer will all be elected at that convention. That is a highlight for sure that’s coming up in the next few months. Then we’ll have direction to move forward from there.

HF If you had to say you had some sort of wish or ultimate goal for our members for the New Year, what would you say that would be?

JM I wish for a safer workplace for everybody and I wish for acknowledgement for how important they are from their co-workers and from their management and their employer. That’s something that I stress in every meeting with the employers and I know I’m making some headway in that. I’m telling you, our members do a great job, a great service on behalf of Nova Scotians. It’s not easy. Our jobs are all service. They’re not easy. We have a function that we have to do and sometimes people forget or don’t necessarily see how important they are or they don’t see it reflected by those that they deal with that their job is very important and I just want everybody to know that their jobs are very important. We’re going to show it. We’re going to have employers do a better job at it as well.

HF A little respect and kindness goes a long way, doesn’t it?

JM Absolutely. It will set your day off. If you have a good interaction earlier in the day it can carry on for the rest of the day or even longer.

HF That’s everything I have for you, Jason, I really appreciate you joining us today. Thank you. To our listeners, thanks so much for tuning in to Union Matters this year. We hope that you enjoyed this episode and that you join us for more podcasts in 2019. Please don’t forget to subscribe. We’re aloes on Facebook and Twitter @nsgeu. Happy New Year!

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