What is an “essential service” anyway? How does this designation impact a public sector union’s ability to strike? This has been a point of contention in Saskatchewan for over a decade under the Saskatchewan Party government.
First, we’ll hear from CUPE 1975 President Craig Hannah, representing 2,000 workers at the University of Saskatchewan who work in food services, technician services, trades, security, clerical support, the library, grounds keeping and landscaping, caretaking, and many other areas.
In late June, CUPE 1975 finally reached a collective agreement after nearly 4 years of bargaining with the University over wages and pensions. The bargaining process was prolonged because, after CUPE attained a strike mandate, the union and the employer did not agree on how many positions were considered “essential services” – or positions that would not be able to go on strike – and thus had to wait for a tribunal ruling.
This was the first time the new essential services legislation had been tested out since being implemented in 2015 – after the Supreme Court determined the Sask Party’s previous essential services legislation violated workers’ right to strike. After the ruling determined only 41.5 out of over 2,000 CUPE 1975 positions were essential services, the university came back to the table the following day, reaching an agreement.
Then we’ll hear from Charles Smith, co-author of Unions in Court: Organized Labour and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, who provides some historical context for this legislation and what it means for labour organizing in Saskatchewan going forward.