By Evan Johnston
Bad faith bargaining by Elmwood Residences
We begin this week in Saskatoon, where a group home employer — Elmwood Residences Inc. — is being accused of bad-faith bargaining by SEIU-West after some strange behaviour at the table.
On Friday, Elmwood informed the union’s bargaining committee that the Employer had a new proposal, but would only reveal it if the 75 workers voted on a zero per cent wage increase. SEIU-West President Barb Cape is quoted by the StarPhoenix as saying that “to call it unusual is an understatement. This is bizarre.”
SEIU-West represents support workers at Elmwood, who have not received a pay raise since 2013 and who are currently in the third week of a job action that involves pulling ‘non-vital services.’
While the employer claims to be unable to afford wage increases, they have had enough to spend on Nurse Next Door — a private home care franchise system — in order to temporarily replace their members. The union points out that Nurse Next Door’s rates are about $30 to $35 dollars per hour, which is twice the rate support workers at EGH make.
Action: You can send a letter of support for the Elmwood workers by clicking here.
Feds signal shift away from Phoenix pay system
After months of increasing pressure from the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the federal government has announced that they will be moving away from the crisis-ridden Phoenix pay system. In its 2018 budget, the federal government has committed to spending $16 million over the next two years in order to find a replacement.
Phoenix, which was set-up by IBM and went live in February 2016, has been riddled with problems from day one, with workers reporting being over-paid, underpaid, or not paid at all. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent both for the original contract with IBM and in subsequent attempts to fix the problems with the system. In May, the price tag to fix the system ($402 million) actually rose above the amount it cost to set it up ($309.5 million).
While PSAC welcomes the budget announcement, the union points out that the budget does not include an exemption from paying back the gross amount for overpayments in 2017.
“We will only have a decisive victory when our members are finally made whole, and they’re paid correctly and on time,” said PSAC National President Robyn Benson. “Until then, the government is not off the hook.”
Nova Scotia Teachers Union call off illegal job action
One week after members voted 82.5% in favour of taking illegal job action, the leadership of the Nova Scotia Teacher’s Union (NTSU) has backed-down as the Nova Scotia government of Stephen McNeil compromised on a few pieces of its Education Reform Act.
The Act, based on recommendations made in the controversial “Glaze report,” initially included the removal of school principals, vice-principals and administrators from the union, the elimination of local school boards, and the creation of a college of teachers responsible for licensing and discipline of the profession.
As of this week, the government has agreed to withdraw its proposal to create a college of teachers, but will still move ahead with the elimination of seven local English school boards, as well as with the removal of principals, vice-principals, and administrators from the union.
However, as the CBC reports, “A new administrators association — which will represent principals, vice-principals and other senior supervisors and comes into effect on Aug. 1 — will pay dues to the NSTU but won’t have the right to unionize, take job action or file formal grievances. It affects about 1,000 people.”
NTSU President Liette Doucet indicated that the union still does not support the legislation, but that they achieved enough to call off the job action. “While the government has done enough to avert job action, they have still much more to do to improve our public education system. We will hold them accountable.”
Janus vs AFSCME
And finally, Canadian trade unionists should pay close attention to Janus vs AFSCME, which made its way to the US Supreme Court this week. Oral arguments were heard from both sids, and the court is expected to render its decision by June.
Here’s how Matt Ford writing in The Atlantic summarizes what’s at stake in the case:
The case centers on public-sector unions’ ability to collect what are known as agency fees, also sometimes called “fair-share fees.” It works like this: To fund their operations, these unions largely rely on dues and other contributions from their members. But they can also collect a smaller amount of fees from non-members who nonetheless benefit from the collective bargaining they provide—for example, higher wages and better working conditions.
Twenty-three states allow their public unions to collect the fees. The Supreme Court upheld the system in the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. Under Abood, unions can collect the fees without violating the Constitution so long as they only use the revenue to cover costs directly related to their collective-bargaining work. At the same time, the Court said, the money can’t be used to pay for a union’s political or ideological activities.
Mark Janus, an Illinois government employee backed by multiple conservative organizations, is asking the justices to overturn that decision. He argued in his petition to the Court that the fees amount to compelled speech, requiring him to subsidize political views he does not support in violation of the First Amendment. Because unions play a powerful civic and political role when striking collective-bargaining agreements, he considers this work to be inseparable from a union’s other political or ideological activities.
To read the full article (I highly recommend it!), click here. For a take on how some in the US labor movement are preparing for the outcome, check out “Bracing for Right to Work, Public Sector Unions Up the Ante” published back in October by Labornotes.