Solidarity! Health-care unions find solution for Bill 1

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The ongoing Bill 1 saga may end happily after all.

After a weeks-long media blackout, Nova Scotia's four health-care unions have emerged from negotiations with the Province to announce that each of the four unions -- NSGEU, NSNU, CUPE and Unifor -- will continue to represent their members, but bargain their agreements jointly using a council model.

"This has been a very challenging time for our health-care workers and for the labour movement as a whole," says President of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour Rick Clarke in a press release.

"Throughout this process, the goal of all the unions has been to maintain their membership, and they have succeeded in doing so with this agreement. We are pleased the government has agreed to work with the unions to find a solution that will meet their goal of streamlining collective bargaining, while respecting workers' rights."

The announcement comes after a tumultuous mediation-arbitration process, in which arbitrator James Dorsey ruled that the government did not have the right to re-assign union members to unions not necessarily of their choosing. After several complex rulings, the provincial Liberals attempted to fire Dorsey, announcing that they would issue new legislation to ensure that the union reshuffling went as they planned.

However, in this major about-face, the Province and all four unions have succeeded in resolving the representation dilemma posed by Bill 1, the Health Authorities Act, without carving up union membership.

With the help of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, the unions have agreed upon a council model of representation for each of the four health-care units, including nursing, health-care, administration, and support services. 

"Back in July, the unions made a proposal to do almost exactly what has been agreed upon today, with only one distinction: all parties have agreed that bargaining in each Council will be led by one union," wrote NSGEU president Joan Jessome in a press release to her union's membership.

Much like the bargaining association model first proposed by the unions, the council model will allow each union to continue representing their current members' interests at the bargaining table and in other matters.

Under this new model, which comes into effect on April 1, 2015, one union will lead each Council. The representative from this lead union will serve as Chief Negotiator and a representative from a second union will serve as Deputy Chief Negotiator. Representation of unions on each of the four bargaining committees will be proportional to the number of members each union has in that sector of the health-care workforce.

Ella Bedard is rabble.ca's labour intern and an associate editor at GUTS Canadian Feminist Magazine. She has written about labour issues for Dominion.ca and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People.

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