Message from the President: Bargaining Update – Summer 2020

Publish date: Wednesday, August 19, 2020

COVID-19

Health and safety

MNU members

MNU President

Dear members,

During these extraordinary times, I know many nurses remain eager for updates regarding our efforts to bargain a new collective agreement. Despite the many challenges nurses are facing in light of COVID-19, the fact is that bargaining remains a top priority for all of us.

As we look forward to the fall, and prepare to live with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future, I wanted to provide you with a special update on collective bargaining, and answers to frequently asked questions from members.

COVID-19 Implications
Nurses know that nearly every aspect of our health care system has been directly or indirectly disrupted by COVID-19. Every program and facility had to adjust to a new reality of providing care in a pandemic environment. Over the past five months, MNU has been consumed with monitoring policies and guidelines associated with government’s pandemic response, and working tirelessly to ensure nurses’ rights at work are protected.

Ensuring that you have appropriate health and safety protections and access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been a top priority, because nothing is more important than your right to a safe workplace. We have made real progress on this critical issue for the benefit of all nurses in Manitoba. For example, last month I was proud to announce a major legal settlement with Shared Health that ended the one-mask-per-shift policy, ensures access to an N-95 for every nurse that requests it when dealing with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients, and established a joint committee with nurses and the employer that will monitor PPE supply, research and technology (click here for more details).

During this time, and despite the many new challenges we face due to COVID-19, MNU has also managed to continue its daily operations at full capacity while working remotely. Administrative and labour relations work on all other matters has continued, as does our efforts to monitor chronic workplace issues such as staffing shortages, unsafe workloads, capacity issues, and so much more. These daily responsibilities didn’t disappear during the pandemic, and are being handled to the best of our ability in addition to the new work created by COVID-19. It is important we recognize all staff, local leaders, and the Board of Directors for their tireless dedication to the service of MNU members during this extraordinary time, and especially our members for all their efforts on behalf of patients throughout Manitoba.

Other stakeholders have also met this challenge. Government and employers across the province have been focused on the pandemic response, including the daunting challenge of rearranging health care operations and designing new protocols for working in a pandemic environment. To expect bargaining to begin at the height of a pandemic would have been unrealistic for all parties involved.
 
Bargaining Timeline
Despite the delays and complications caused by COVID-19, MNU continued to engage the employer to set a bargaining timeline. In July, MNU sent notice to the employer requesting bargaining begin this September. The employer must first agree to bargaining dates before a timeline can be established, and we will provide updates to members as soon as dates are finalized.

Rest assured that MNU is fully prepared to begin as soon as possible. Internally, we have been planning logistics for virtual bargaining sessions, and MNU’s Provincial Collective Bargaining Committee (PCBC) has updated its package of bargaining proposals based on the new bargaining structure established in the wake of the union representation votes.

After the union representation votes last year, MNU immediately focused on bargaining by welcoming 500 new members to the union, engaging in a new round of consultation with members, and updating our bargaining package to reflect the newly amalgamated bargaining units. MNU officially welcomed the new members in mid-December 2019, and a new bargaining survey was distributed shortly thereafter, with results being received by the PCBC in January 2020.

As explained in previous bargaining updates, MNU has always been prepared to meet the employer at the bargaining table. Long before the current contract expired, MNU’s PCBC conducted thorough consultations with members across the province beginning in 2016. After that, MNU served notice to begin bargaining, months prior to the expiration of the agreement in March 2017.

The fact is, as we have all come to learn, the Pallister government was always intent on delaying bargaining indefinitely. Long before the pandemic, the Pallister government implemented a series of anti-union actions, such as wage freeze legislation (the Public Services Sustainability Act) and forcing nurses to take part in unnecessary union representation votes in 2019.

The Pallister government has thrown numerous hurdles in the way of the bargaining process. MNU has addressed these challenges head on. We’ve spoken out publicly, loudly and frequently, with strong criticisms of this government. We continue to push for bargaining to begin as soon as possible.

Key Takeaways
Let me be clear: if you are still wondering where the blame lies for the delay in bargaining a new collective agreement, please look directly towards the Manitoba Legislative Building.

Ultimately, the decision to delay bargaining is a political choice, and the only way we change that, is to stand united and work together towards a common cause.

That’s why we need every nurse in Manitoba to help the union in forcing this government’s hand. MNU is currently planning next steps for the fall, including new calls to action that will engage members and Manitobans across the province. Your participation will be critical for the success of these initiatives.

But it doesn’t end there. I know members expect MNU to use every legal tool at its disposal to force the employer to the table. We will continue to do so at every opportunity.

Legal Challenge Update
As announced earlier this summer, the Public Services Sustainability Act (PSSA) was ruled unconstitutional by the Court of Queen’s Bench. This ruling was a major victory for nurses and all public sector workers by effectively nullifying the government’s legal basis for unilaterally imposing a wage cap over four years (0, 0, 0.75 and 1 per cent).

Unfortunately, the Pallister government appears intent on dragging this through a lengthy and costly appeal process. This week we learned the Pallister government filed a Notice of Appeal on grounds that the lower court erred in ruling the PSSA unconstitutional. Court dates for the appeal have not yet been set, and it could take many more months before the appeal is heard in court (for more information about the Court of Appeal, visit manitobacourts.mb.ca).

It’s a disappointing development. Though the government certainly has the legal right to appeal, we’d hoped they would respect the Court of Queen’s Bench ruling, which came down strongly on the side of defending your constitutional right to free and fair collective bargaining.

The Partnership to Defend Public Services, a coalition of public sector unions coordinated by the Manitoba Federation of Labour which launched the legal challenge, continues to monitor government actions. MNU remains a proud member of the PDPS, and we continue to work with our partners to steer the coalition’s actions in this critical case. We will notify members of all further developments related to bargaining, including the appeal process, as soon as new information is confirmed.

This latest development is a reminder of an indisputable fact: we are dealing with a duly elected government which has significant powers at its disposal to continue delaying the collective bargaining process. Unfortunately, through their reckless approach to health care cuts and consolidation, and their total disregard for the advice of nurses and other experts, they have repeatedly, consistently demonstrated that they intend to make your working life more difficult, and they are willing to use every tool available to them for implementing their austerity agenda.

Essential Services
As we continue to push for a resolution, we must recognize the importance of using other methods to force this government’s hand. However, it’s also important to remember that nurses are deemed essential service providers. This means that there are legal limits placed on our ability to take job action. The government’s current definition of essential services reads as follows:

"essential service" means a service, duty or function that is necessary to enable an employer to prevent or limit
(a) loss of life;
(b) serious harm or damage to, or deterioration of, the mental or physical health of one or more persons; or
(c) serious harm or damage to, or deterioration of, property required in the performance of an essential service. (« service essentiel »)”

You don’t have to be a lawyer to understand the implications of this definition, particularly in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic. Job action is only effective to the extent that workers are united and able to withhold their labour from the employer during a dispute. Essential Service Agreements severely limit that right for nurses, given the obvious patient care implications.

We know you will always put your patients first. Job action while maintaining safe patient care is possible, however these circumstances do make it significantly more complicated, and it means nurses must utilize a variety of other actions to fight for a fair deal.

As president, I share your frustration about delays. If there was any unilateral action MNU could take to force the employer to the table, we would have taken it long ago. However, the reality is, it’s going to take a combination of actions to get to the table, and most importantly, get the deal you all deserve.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Manitobans are counting on nurses more than ever before, and I know nurses are fully committed to serving Manitobans. We must always maintain that trust, and in turn we can rely on public support as we take political action to defend our rights. We must stay strong and united as we use our collective power to achieve the outcomes we all deserve, including a new collective agreement.

I look forward to continue working with all of you to achieve that.

In solidarity,

Darlene Jackson
President, Manitoba Nurses Union
Chair, Provincial Collective Bargaining Committee (PCBC)

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