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Canada : Liberals fire health-care union arbitrator, promise legislation

Nova Scotia’s health minister fired an arbitrator Friday and said he plans to introduce legislation to finish the job.

Leo Glavine said Jim Dorsey, who delivered his

report Friday, failed to complete his work by not assigning bargaining units to each of the province’s four health-care unions. The Health Authorities Act, which merges the district health authorities into one board, also narrows the labour field to four bargaining units: clerical, health-care, nursing and support.

BLOG REPLAY: Ruling and reaction
EDITORIAL:Picking health unions a mess

Dorsey assigned the health-care bargaining unit to the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union and suggested the NSGEU would also get the clerical unit following a pending union merger. But he did not assign the nursing or support units because he said no union had a clear majority of workers.

A government regulation that gave the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union a majority for nursing was thrown out in the report. Dorsey said he would return in April to address nursing and support, but Glavine said he won’t get the chance.

“We need to finish the work,” the minister said. “We know that arbitration brings final decisions ... We clearly asked Mr. Dorsey — paid him well — to arbitrate. He hasn’t done that.”

Glavine said the Health Authorities Act was clear that each of the four unions was to be assigned a bargaining unit. To date, Dorsey’s tab stands at $200,000 and Glavine said cabinet would determine if he would receive the full amount.

“This report does not give us clarity on important questions and it does not respect the Health Authorities Act.”

Cabinet will also discuss whether to recall the House early to pass new legislation in time for April 1, when the new provincial health board becomes operational.

NSGEU president Joan Jessome, who earlier in the day heralded Dorsey’s ruling as a victory for workers’ rights, said she was shocked by Glavine’s decision to “dictate which union would represent which workers.”

The union will use the courts to fight the coming legislation, she said, and she expected her members would consider protest options. The union would support whatever decisions they make, said Jessome.

She predicted workers leaving the system.

“I know today of nurses that have their retirement papers in their hands and were waiting for the decision before they passed them in to the employer.”

The NSGEU stood to gain almost 4,000 new members with Dorsey’s ruling. Most of those gains were at the expense of CUPE, which would have been close to wiped out. But even with an apparent lifeline from the government, CUPE president Danny Cavanagh said he doesn’t know how anyone can trust the Liberals.

“They said they would live with Dorsey’s decision,” he said. “(The government) said they wanted to work with people. Clearly, they don’t want to work with people; they want to take a hammer to people and hammer them into submission.”

Dorsey should be allowed to finish his work, said Cavanagh.

Unifor’s Atlantic director, Lana Payne, said there was no reason for things to reach this point. Her union knew it would be a challenge but its goal was to keep as many members as possible while meeting the government’s requirements.

The union was prepared to work with Dorsey’s ruling, said Payne.

“When we first got the decision this morning, we thought, ‘yeah, we can do this,’ ” she said. “But what’s been made clear now is this legislation was about something else.”

Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union president Janet Hazelton, whose union will almost certainly get the nurses in the government’s legislation, said she doesn’t know what to think.

Dorsey’s ruling did not advance the issue for nurses given that he’d previously said an amalgamated union wouldn’t work, she said, but the government’s actions make her question the point of bringing in Dorsey in the first place.

“It seems that their intention from the very get-go was what they’re going to do.”

Dorsey said an option for addressing the lack of majorities is merging the two employers — the new provincial health board and the IWK Health Centre — into one. However, health officials said the IWK is treated as a separate entity because it is “truly a regional facility” that is financially supported by other provinces.

Opposition parties ripped into the government for Friday’s move.

“I am so concerned about where our health-care system is going,” acting NDP leader Maureen MacDonald said.

As waiting lists grow, and emergency rooms and intensive care unit beds close, the government is preoccupied with unions, she said.

“I’m angry that they’re playing games with unions when they need to be thinking about patients.”

Tory health critic Chris d’Entremont said “it shows obviously a government that didn’t do its homework, that didn’t do its research and are stuck with a bill that doesn’t do anything like they said it was supposed to do.”

D’Entremont said he doesn’t think Dorsey was freelancing but rather did his best to interpret legislation that wasn’t fully thought through.

Dorsey’s orders about the health-care bargaining unit, seniority, the number of bargaining units and collective agreements will be respected, said Glavine. But where, in the eyes of government, Dorsey did not act, the health minister said he will.

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