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Victory for health-care workers in Nova Scotia's Bill 1 deal

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Photo: Sean_Marshall/flickr

What better time to declare victory and slink off to bind your wounds than just before cocktail hour on the Friday afternoon before school March break and the eve of another Sunday nor'easter? (It's no coincidence two of the top four Google News search terms modifying "Nova Scotia" Saturday morning were "weather and "storm"; "health care agreement" did not even crack the top 10.)

So Premier Stephen McNeil and his suddenly silent sidekick, Health Minister Leo Glavine, chose that exact moment to announce their new-old deal to end the impasse over which health-care unions would represent which health-care workers.

One can only hope -- we shall see -- they have also put a stake through the heart of their original master plan: to destabilize the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees' Union, the province's most powerful public sector union, as a prelude to making workers pay full price for generations of political maladministration and malfeasance.

That was/is the McNeil government's grand ambition -- from essential services laws it steamrolled through the legislature last April and May, to last fall's benign-sounding Health Authorities Act.

That legislation, quite reasonably, set out to rationalize health-care delivery, reducing the number of regional health boards from 10 to two, and the number of individual union contracts from 50 to four. The government -- again not unreasonably -- wanted to negotiate with one bargaining team for each of the four contracts.

The problem was that, historically, different unions had organized different sets of workers within the various jurisdictions. So last August, the unions proposed a simple solution: create bargaining councils of unions for each group of workers, with one union leading negotiations on behalf of the others.

That would work.

But the problem -- from the government's broader perspective -- was that the NSGEU would not be destroyed. It would keep its members.

So the government said no.

Which led, inevitably, to draconian legislation transferring workers into unions of the government's choosing, lawsuits, mediation, arbitration, a fired arbitrator (again and again), threats and bluffs, the intervention of the premier and -- six months later than necessary -- Friday's capitulation. The workers won.

Happy March break. Happy snow shoveling.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: Sean_Marshall/flickr

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