On Thursday, February 17, 2017, two CUPE representatives made presentations to the Law Amendments Committee of the Nova Scotia Legislature, speaking in opposition to proposed Bill 75, the Teachers’ Professional Agreement and Classroom Improvements (2017) Act.
- See the status of Bill 75 on the NS Legislature website
The following presentations were made by CUPE NS President Nan McFadgen and CUPE NS School Board Coordinator Grant Dart. CUPE Research Representative Carol Ferguson made the presentation before the Committee, on behalf of Grant Dart who was unable to attend the session in person. Written copies were submitted to the Committee.
CUPE Nova Scotia President Nan McFadgen
My name is Nan McFadgen and I am the President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Nova Scotia Division. CUPE is Canada’s largest union, with more than 644,000 members across the country.
In Nova Scotia, CUPE proudly represents more than 19,000 men and women working in communities throughout the province to deliver important public services in education, both school boards and post-secondary; healthcare, including hospitals, long term care and home care; municipalities; provincial highways; and community services, among other sectors of the economy.
I want to thank the members of the Law Amendments Committee for this opportunity to speak to Bill 75.
CUPE members in Nova Scotia are proud to provide services that support the development of vibrant, healthy communities and strong local economies. Our union is proud to work in support of safe workplaces and good jobs that provide a decent standard of living and that are the building blocks of thriving communities.
We are disheartened and alarmed that this government does not recognize the valuable role that unions and collective bargaining play in a democratic society. Time and again, this government has used it legislative majority to limit the rights of workers in Nova Scotia. The list is long:
Bill 19 – Trade Union Act Amendments
December 6, 2013
Gutted provisions allowing automatic access to first contract arbitration following union certification. The amendments make it much harder for workers to exercise their right to unionize and for the Labour Board to become involved in the process.
Bill 30 – Essential Home-support Services Act
February 28, 2014
When home support locals were engaged in collective bargaining, the government passed legislation to prevent the workers from striking until they had entered into essential home support services agreements with their employers. Premier McNeil inserted himself directly into the collective bargaining process publicly warning workers that if they did not accept the final offer made by the employers, the offer would be withdrawn and lower increases would be offered in future rounds of bargaining. The definition of what services were to be considered essential was far reaching, including laundry and light housekeeping.
Bill 37 – Essential Health and Community Services Act
March 31, 2014
Compelled more than 40,000 workers in acute health care, long term health care facilities, care facilities, group homes, 911 operators, ambulance services, home support, child protection and people working in homes for seniors, youth at risk and the disabled represented by seven different unions to negotiate essential services agreements with their employers six months prior to the expiry of their collective agreement or lose their right to strike.
Bill 1 – Health Authorities Act
September 29, 2014
A restructuring of the health care system reducing the number of acute health care employers from 10 to two, bargaining units from 50 to four, and banning strikes by acute health care workers during the process. A mediator/arbitrator was given authority to determine union representation; government later “fired” James Dorsey for allegedly disobeying the rules of his appointment and the terms of the legislation.
Bill 100 – Universities Accountability & Sustainability Act
The legislation allows universities in the province to enter five-year “revitalization” periods, during which the right of their unionized employees to strike are banned and collective agreements of campus employees are overridden. The legislation applies to unionized cleaners, trades and maintenance workers, administrative support workers, librarians, part-time teachers and faculty, in all the provinces’ universities.
Bill 148 – Public Service Sustainability Act
December 14, 2015
This bill imposes limits on increases to the compensation rates and compensation ranges payable by public sector employers. It also limits the scope of awards at arbitration. In an unusual move, Government has passed this bill but will only make it law (proclamation) to stop a settlement or arbitration award that exceeds the bill’s provisions on wages and retirement allowances.
And now we have Bill 75 destroying the rights of teachers to free and fair collective bargaining.
All Nova Scotians pay the cost of weaker collective bargaining rights, not just those who are union members.
Unions play a key role in reducing inequality, both in the workplace and in society as a whole. As the 2008 study of 51 countries by the International Labour Organization (ILO) found, there is a strong correlation between high union density and greater income equality. The weaker unions become, the greater inequality grows.
Unions bring an important element of democracy, often termed “industrial democracy,” to the workplace. Voting on one’s wages, benefits and working conditions is significant, as is electing a bargaining team to negotiate a new collective agreement based on the issues members voted on and having the opportunity to accept or reject a new tentative settlement. The ability to grieve alleged violations of the collective agreement and resolve issues of due process is also important. Collective agreements and due process helps protect members against arbitrary decisions and work rules, unfair termination, challenge discrimination on the basis of gender or colour, promote equal pay for similar work, oppose unfair treatment and more.
The process of voting by secret ballot in a union election is similar to voting for a candidate to a provincial legislature or to the federal parliament in Ottawa.
Over the decades, labour movements in Canada and many other countries have been front and centre in the fight for democracy both in the workplace and in society. Canada signed the ILO’s Convention 87, which recognizes freedom of association and the right of workers to organize unions as fundamental human rights. Labour rights are seen quite correctly as a key component of human rights.
Across Canada unions have led the fight for the eight-hour workday, better employment or labour standards, training and income support for the unemployed, public pensions (now the Canada Pension Plan), workplace health and safety laws, minimum wages to enable poor workers to live above the poverty line, protections for injured workers, and parental and maternity benefits. In virtually every province these achievements have become common social rights extended to everyone, not only to union members.
In conclusion, CUPE Nova Scotia urges the members of the Law Amendments Committee to support labour rights and free collective bargaining as a social good and reject Bill 75.
CUPE School Board Coordinator Grant Dart
My name is Grant Dart and I am a national servicing representative with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and I am also the coordinator for the school board sector. CUPE is Canada’s largest union, with more than 644,000 members across the country.
In Nova Scotia, CUPE proudly represents more than 4,000 school board workers, we have classification in every school board across the province. Our members are educational program assistants or teacher assistants, secretary’s, bus drivers, janitorial/custodians, mechanic’s, skilled trades, library techs, building operators, and lunch ground monitors. It varies from board to board, on which classifications of those I listed are CUPE members, but we are the support staff that keeps our schools running.
I want to thank the members of the Law Amendments Committee for this opportunity to speak to Bill 75.
I believe it is important to start by saying how opposed CUPE is to Bill 75 and the position the Government is taking by imposing a collective agreement on any union.
Collective bargaining is the cornerstone to being unionized and it works the best when both the parties engage fully in the process to find solutions that work for both sides for the issues they are facing. This incredibly important exercise is by-passed when a 3rd party imposes themselves in the process and dictates the terms to be followed.
The Government has stated publicly on a number of occasions their desire for labour peace in this province, however this Bill does the complete opposite of that. In this case members of the NSTU (not their executive, but the teachers themselves that make up the union) have on three occasions exercised their democratic right (and obligation under the Trade Union Act) to vote on a tentative agreement. All three times the members of NSTU have voted no.
Now instead of hearing that voice, the Government is imposing terms that where already rejected. Not only that, Bill 75 does not even contain all the provisions that where bargained at the table in the last attempt by the parties. For example, the wage pattern is different than what was bargained in the last tentative agreement, as well as the conditions of the service award and the committee to look at working conditions within the classrooms and schools. By including these changes within this Bill, the Government is sending the message and is showing a total disregard for the bargaining process.
For CUPE member’s I believe this sets a tone for upcoming rounds of bargaining that can only foster distrust with this government, and an adversarial approach to bargaining.
The fact that the Government is willing to take this approach with labour in this province is incredibly disheartening and troublesome. Our members do great work within this province and put their money back into it’s local economies. They deserve a voice in the bargaining process and on the terms and conditions they work under, not to have those terms dictated by a government.
As stated, CUPE believes this entire Bill and the actions of this government are wrong and harmful, but I would like to speak for a minute on one section of the Bill that is particularly troublesome for CUPE members. That is the section around the new “Inclusion Committee”. CUPE believes that inclusion in our schools is incredibly important and should be looked at to find best practices and ways to improve the system.
That being said, a large part of the inclusion program is working with students with special needs. Working with these students are what CUPE members in our educational program assistant or teacher assistant classifications do. It is our work and these members are incredibly good at their jobs. However in this Bill, CUPE, whose members perform this work daily, is not even considered as a partner.
What is worse is section 11 that reads:
11 Except for changes recommended in the interim report, until three months following the receipt by the parties of the Commission’s final report or until such other time to which the parties may agree,
(a) the Minister may not make changes to the Provincial Special Education Policy
and any policies related to inclusive education; and
(b) a school board may not make changes to any school board policy respecting
This language is so broad and open ended that it has the ability to interfere with CUPE’s bargaining in the future. For example, if CUPE was to table language to try to include more classroom or supervision time for our educational program assistants or teacher assistants, this language may not allow the [school] boards to even consider those changes even if both parties agreed to do so.
This Bill cannot impact others that have the right to look towards the best interests of their professions.
In conclusion, CUPE believe this entire Bill should be rejected, but if not, at least sections 4-11 need to be re-looked at with other unions in mind and not have their rights to bargain impeded.
CUPE urges the members of the Law Amendments Committee to reject Bill 75 and ask the parties to return to bargaining table, unobstructed to reach a fairly negotiated agreement that works for all parties.
Photo: Grant Dart (left) and Nan McFadgen (right) attending the rally outside the NS Legislature on Friday, February 17, 2017