"I'm rarely at a loss for words. But we had no idea it was going to be this bad. If this law is allowed to pass, it will make Canadian labour history," says Joan Jessome, NSGEU President.
Halifax (29 Sept. 2014) — An unprecedented move by the rookie Liberal government in Nova Scotia could strip the province's health care workers of the right to vote on the union to which they want to belong.
Nova Scotia government to introduce legislation removing the fundamental right of workers to choose their union
If the legislation passes, in the form described by the premier and the minister of health, it would weaken organized labour's democratic foundations.
"I'm rarely at a loss for words," said Joan Jessome, NSGEU President, yesterday morning in a telephone town hall with more than 2,000 members on the line. "But we had no idea it was going to be this bad. If this law is allowed to pass, it will make Canadian labour history."
Labour legislation could go down as the most undemocratic in the history of Canada
The new law, which Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says will be introduced on the evening of September 29, will force the provinces' 24,000 health care workers into unions of the government's or government-appointed agent's choosing.
"There is really only one question: will health care workers get to vote?'" said Jessome. "The premier said there will be no vote."
"No other government, anywhere in Canada, of any political stripe, has ever resorted to such undemocratic measures," says NUPGE National Secretary-Treasurer Larry Brown, who is in Halifax working with NSGEU leadership. "It's fundamental to our whole system that employees have to be given the choice of which union they want to represent them. To deny people that right is totally unacceptable."
The new law comes amidst a massive amalgamation of the province's health authorities, from 10 health authorities down to two. Right now, the province's unionized health care workers are represented in different workplaces and bargaining units by either NSGEU/NUPGE, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Unifor, or the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union.
Amalgamations lead to bargaining associations or run-off votes
Typically, Canadian labour law gives unionized workers who find themselves with a new employer and in a new bargaining unit the opportunity to vote on which union they will join. That is what took place in Alberta in 2008, and before that in a variety of other provinces from coast to coast. Other times, as developed after British Columbia's health care amalgamation in 2001, unions formed bargaining associations to negotiate at common tables. NSGEU/NUPGE and the other health care unions unanimously recommended this option to the government.
But the Nova Scotia Liberals, elected less than a year ago, publicly rejected both run-off votes and bargaining associations. On September 26, Health Minister Leo Glavine told reporters government would appoint a mediator to sort out who belongs to which union.
"The premier has made it clear that there are four bargaining groups (nurses, health professionals, administrative professionals, and support staff)," said Jessome. "And he made it clear that the arbitrator will be directed to ensure there is one union per employee group."
"Our members aren't horses, and I'm not trading them," says Jessome
Jessome said it's as if the government expects her and the other union leaders to negotiate for members.
"Well, our members aren't horses, and I'm not trading them," she said. "At the very minimum, they have to get a vote."
The Liberal government has a majority and is expected to try to ram the new legislation through the process quickly. But as was clear from the mood of the telephone town halls, the NSGEU/NUPGE members aren't going to make it easy.
"It took English people 900 years to get the vote," said one caller who spoke up. "I'll be damned if I'm going to let Stephen McNeil take it away in five days."
Members will begin rallying at the legislature today at 4 p.m. (EST) and are planning a Vigil for Democracy once the bill is introduced.
Please post and share notes of solidarity on NSGEU's Facebook page or send a message to your local member of the legislature, the minister of health and Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil telling them you oppose this legislation.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE