The party that wins the Manitoba election on Sept. 11 will prove crucial to ensuring unions in the province can defend the rights of their workers.
Changes have occurred under the Pallister government that has negatively affected many of UFCW’s members, Local 832 president Jeff Traeger said.
The current Labour Relations Act, Employment Standards Code, Workers Compensation Act, Work Place Safety and Health Act creates what Traeger called “balanced legislation” that account for the needs of employers and the employees. If that legislation is removed Traeger is concerned the “pendulum would swing too far to the right,” befitting employers at the expense of workers.
UFCW has seen firsthand how these changes to legislature and government can stymie the rights of workers. The union represents around 2,400 security guards in the province. Under the previous government, they lobbied to set a minimum wage for these workers of $2.25 above the regular minimum wage.
UFCW met with both unionized security, non-unionized security and The Manitoba Labour Management Review Committee and got a consensus that there was a need for the minimum wage to be changed — the government did not agree and kept the guards at $12.50.
“It was the first time in the 30 plus year history of the Labour Management Review Committee that a joint recommendation was ignored by the government,” Traeger said.
This apparent disregard for workers in the province can be seen in the “frightening” changes to the health care, Unifor Local 191 staff rep John Webster said, raising concern about the care patients can receive if workers are exhausted.
“I shudder to think If I was brought in and that nurse has just done ten days of double shifts. That person is exhausted mentally and physically,” Webster said. “It leaves opportunity for terrible, terrible mistakes to be made. I can’t blame the profession I blame the government.”
The sector is in chaos, Webster added, especially in regards to unions abilities to aid in collective bargaining.
These concerns extend to UFCW. The union represents a significant number of public sector employees, many of which are in health care, Traeger said, explaining that Bill 28, the Public Services Sustainability Act, has significantly interfered with their right to collective bargaining.
“They haven’t enacted that yet. But the fact that it’s out there and they’re kind of waiting to drop the hammer on it that has impacted our ability to bargain with these types of employees,” Traeger said, revealing that employers are refusing to work outside the tentative limits set by Bill 28. The bill will limit wage increases to 1. 75 percent over four years.
Bill 28 will be going before the Manitoba Courts in the fall and many unions are ready to take them to the supreme court if needed because it interferes with the constitutional right of employees to have a bargaining agent represent them at the table, he said.
Another way in which unions have been hindered, Traeger said is through changes to the card check process. A pivotal step to setting up a unionized workplace, the card check was also removed under Pallister — before this if a union was able to sign up 65 percent of a non-unionized employer they would receive certification. Now they are required to hold a vote, regardless of how many cards are signed.
“It’s a huge waste of time and money. All it really does is give some employers the opportunity to influence the vote,” Traeger said. “That’s problematic for us.”
The changes to card check do raise anxieties that a right to work legislation could be introduced if the Progressive Conservatives are re-elected, Unifor Local 191 president Aldo Santin said.
“There’s always a concern that they would try and bring that right to work legislation allowing people to hire scabs,” Santin said.
He raised doubts that the government would take this extreme step but said he still worries unions will face a government continually working to weaken the power they have to protect workers. “The rules have changed to empower employers to threaten and intimidate workers,” Santin said.
Traeger also raised concerns in regards to the recent announcement that the Retail Business Closing act will be repealed if the Pallister government is re-elected. The act limits the hours of work on Sundays and the availability of certain places to be open on holidays.
It is especially concerning for UFCW who represents 1,000s of retail workers.
UFCW had planned on meeting with the Labour Management Review Committee in regards to the act to find a solution that benefits both employees and employers, but that point is moot now that it has become an election talking point for the Progressive Conservatives.
“The government has already decided that if they re-elected they are going to enable that legislation,” Traeger said. “This government truly does not care about the impact of their decision making on working people. They seem to not even consider it at all.”