On the Line

Why are the Liberals now Nova Scotia's least labour friendly party in Nova Scotia?

Why are the Liberals now Nova Scotia’s least labour friendly party in Nova Scotia?

Did the three three men vying to be Premier of Nova Scotia pass the last Labour Day before the election celebrating workers’ rights, marching in solidarity with nurses, teachers, cleaning crews and coffee shop workers. Or did they take the day off – a victory won for us by the work of the labour movement?

Once upon a time, even American Republicans cheered about their strong ties to organized labour. Now, Liberals in Canada, and of course Tories, shy away from topics ranging from the minimum wage to maternity leave.

On Labour Day, while marching and speaking at a union rally in Halifax, NDP Premier Darrell Dexter announced an important policy plank that will help workers take care of their families – better access to parental leave.

More Nova Scotians will be able to take parental leave knowing their job will be waiting for them when they return. Premier Darrell Dexter announced plans today, Sept. 2, to amend the Labour Standards Code to allow someone employed for six months with an employer to qualify for pregnancy/parental leave.

Jamie Baillie did not hide completely on the one day of the year politicians focus on labour issues. On Twitter he offered this:

Let’s take a moment today to reflect on the valuable contribution the men & women who work hard in all kinds of jobs, make to our economy. Together, we all want a growing economy, safe work conditions, and a shared, prosperous future for all Nova Scotians.

Stephen McNeil was quiet on workers’ issues this year.

We’ve talked about the Liberal Party’s history of labour relations in Nova Scotia. It bears repeating.

The last time the Liberals were in power saw the worst period of labour unrest in Nova Scotia’s recent history.

  •     Angry nurses suggested wildcat strikes after the Liberal government refused to give the chief negotiator a mandate to resume talks.
  •     Nova Scotia’s 60,000 public-sector workers said they’d walk off the job if the Liberal government didn’t restore collective bargaining.
  •     Nova Scotia’s teachers agreed to support the general strike over a 3% rollback in wages and benefits by the Liberals and a three-year salary freeze.
  •     All police forces in the province outside of Halifax signed on to take part in a wide-scale walkout against the Liberal government.

“Collective bargaining has not been abolished,” Liberal Human Resources Minister Eleanor Norrie said in the legislature at the time. “Collective bargaining has been suspended.”

Nurses, public sector workers, teachers and cops would do well to remember those savage days in Nova Scotia. The Liberals flash left, but turn right, causing quite the spectacular crash.


Solidarity Forever

Hiring 45 new elementary school teachers and capping class sizes for the youngest children at 25 – the lowest in a generation – brought the NDP praise from parents.  And good press.

One thing overlooked was the apparent change in attitude by the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union. The union recently voted for a new president, Shelley Morse, and seems to have a new tone, at least so far.  Instead of the constant criticism and caustic commentary of former president Alexis Allen, Morse’s early tone suggests the NSTU is at long last behaving like a more modern union.

Ramona Jennex: I talked to parents, teachers, and met with the new teachers’ union president. Together we were able to identify where support was needed.

Shelley Moore: We are pleased that Minister Jennex has listened to teachers and parents about the concerns with class-size caps in the lower elementary grades.

It is a quantum leap for the NSTU.

Under Allen, the union was unwilling to even try to find anything resembling a reasonable dialogue with government.

  • When the Education Department announced high school students could receive a course credit by taking part in 4 H or cadets, Allen called the move “exclusionary and elitist.”
  • When the NDP announced they would be addressing poor math scores by adopting the country’s strongest curriculum – from Alberta – Allen automatically dismissed the move.
  • When Education Minister Ramona Jennex announced the NDP would examine teachers’ academic backgrounds to ensure they are teaching their strengths, Allen said she was not aware of a widespread mismatch, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Under Alexis Allen, the NSTU acted neither strategically nor responsibly – to the detriment of NSTU members and students. 

We hope that has changed.

Teachers (and students) deserve cool-headed, thoughtful, and responsible leadership from the province’s teacher union leaders. The NSTU has a great opportunity to to show that it has matured, in advance of contract negotiations with the province. It should keep in mind that the NDP is the only party that supports collective bargaining. The opposition does not.

Wouldn’t they rather negotiate in good faith with their allies instead of going up against a government that would strip labour of hard-earned rights? Time will tell.

A Tale of Two Unions

Man has lost the basic skill of the ape, the ability to scratch its back. Which gave it extraordinary independence, and the liberty to associate for reasons other than the need for mutual back-scratching. – Jean Baudrillard

Nova Scotia has an NDP government. And the NDP have an historic and familial relationship with the labour movement. That’s reality.

While the Tories and Liberals like to blow hard about good labour legislation including First Contract Arbitration, a real important question is how each of the two long-time friends – the NDP and the labour movement – are evolving now that the NDP is the governing party.

In fact, let’s look at First Contract with that question in mind. Labour wanted it. And passing the legislation wasn’t so much “payback,” as it was pay-forward to Labour. It was about the future. In return, Labour would behave responsibly (and strategically) in contract negotiations leading up to the next election. That is what the NDP were trying to “fix” – the divisive, bitter and unstable labour environment under Conservative and Liberal governments of the last 20 years. More specifically, the NDP was  saying “this is the kind of progressive legislation you can expect from an NDP government.” But, to continue to get this kind of progressive action from the NDP, they need to be in power. And for that to happen, Labour needs to evolve beyond short term demands for wage hikes that the province cannot yet afford.

So far, the evidence suggests the NDP has evolved into the kind of pragmatic, responsible government that builds the economy and creates jobs – much like Romanow and Doer did out west. Neither of those successful NDP governments had serious showdowns with Labour. So, what about Labour? Have they evolved? Or are they still treating the government as if an anti-labour party were in power?

Last week, we saw evidence suggesting that one union’s leadership – the NSGEU – has evolved, while another union’s leadership, the NSTU – is acting neither strategically nor responsibly.

The NSGEU  bargained in good faith, did not break the media blackout, and did not strike. They received a good contract that keeps wages in line with cost-of-living increases. Imagine if Jessome and the NSGEU had behaved with the hostility of Alexis Allen of the NSTU? It would have been chaos.

The NSTU isn’t even negotiating a new contract for our teachers yet, and they are already poisoning their own well with their ad assault on the government and their antics as visitors to the legislature of late. It is a shame. Our teachers deserve cool-headed, thoughtful, and responsible labour strategies from their union reps – that’s the way to negotiate with the NDP government.

Congratulations to Local 42 on your new contract. The NSTU should evolve and learn from you.