CUPE workers ready to walk

Darrell Cole
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AMHERST - Health-care workers in Cumberland County are prepared to hit the picket line even if they don't really want to.

"This is not something we want to do, but we have to what we have to do," CUPE's district vice-president Linda Moore said Thursday, a day after the union set Jan. 18 as their strike date. "No one wants this strike, the union doesn't and I don't think management does either, but it's a question of fairness and wage equity."

Close to 400 members of the local union that includes health-care workers at Cumberland County's five hospitals voted overwhelmingly in favour of taking strike action to back up the union's demand that its workers get the same 2.9 per cent wage increase given to their counterparts in the Capital District Health Authority.

The health care employers, representing the eight district health authorities outside Halifax, including Cumberland, remain hopeful a strike can be averted.

"While the employers appreciate that CUPE has provided a firm date for a possible strike, adapting to the ongoing strike threat is continuing," said health-care employers spokesperson Greg Boone of the Cape Breton District Health Authority. "The employers see the pending strike as a serious situation with potential for significant impact on the health-care system. However, the ongoing goal of the employers is to reach a negotiated settlement without a strike."

Health districts are finalizing contingency plans that include scaling back and suspending services while in some cases patients and families are being contacted about appointment changes.

Moore knows a strike is going to inconvenience people and she understands people are going to be upset, but she's hoping they will vent their frustrations by calling their MLA.

"This was not our doing and if people are really upset they should call their MLAs and tell them their feelings," said Moore. "We don't want to place anyone in jeopardy and we will be there to help in an emergency, but just as we are there when they need us it would really help us if they could call their MLA for us."

Ron Davis, president of CUPE Local 3890 that represents about 50 caretakers and tradespeople in the Chignecto family of schools, understands the position of health-care workers because it's similar to theirs.

"No one wants to go on strike here either, but at the same time they understand what this is about," said Davis. "Our campaign slogan has been about fairness nothing more, nothing less and that's all we want."

Davis said NSGEU employees within the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board were given a 2.9 per cent wage increase, but they are only being offered one per cent.

"It's about fairness and if things aren't settled we'll be out on the 18th," he said, adding he's still hopeful a solution will be found before they hit the picket line. "For me, I have to do what I think is right."

Chignecto-Central Regional School Board spokesperson Carolyn Pierce said the board is working on its contingency plan in the event of a work stoppage by 600 CUPE members.

"We plan to take all reasonable steps to maintain education service delivery," Pierce said. "We anticipate schools will stay open as long as we're able to provide a health and safe working environment for our students and staff."

Pierce said a local agreement was reached with CUPE in November that deals with a number of non-wage issues, but it's provincial issues that are at an impasse.

Also, while school bus drivers will be impacted elsewhere in the district, it will be business as usual in Cumberland because transportation services are contracted out to First Student that has its own unionized workforce.

In a release late Thursday, Cumberland South MLA Murray Scott has asked Premier Darrell Dexter to get involved.

"When it comes to the health and education of Nova Scotians, he should at least be willing to come to the table. Unfortunately, the pattern being demonstrated by the premier is to hide and dodge serious issues such as this ongoing labour dispute, the decision to cancel the construction of a provincial correctional facility in Springhill and to discontinue the Cat ferry service in Yarmouth."

Scott said the province is on the brink of a crisis, but the premier is no where to be found.

Organizations: CUPE Local 3890, Capital District Health Authority, Cape Breton District Health Authority Central Regional School Board

Geographic location: Cumberland County, AMHERST, Chignecto Halifax Springhill Yarmouth

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Recent comments

  • HB
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    This strike has less to do with *fair treatment* and more to do with setting precedent. Wage parity is a farce and even CUPE knows it. CUPE doesn't care about people that live here or even it's members as much as they'd like to make out.

    The fact is there are a whole bunch more contracts to negotiate this year with the provincial government, and if CUPE shows any weakness now and gives in now, it will affect the rest of their negotiations. Who cares if we're already waiting 8 hours in the ER to see a doctor - CUPE certainly doesn't. They're simply using this and their members to hold us hostage for extortion, plain and simple.

  • DJ
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    Just to clarify Gregg - the strike also includes Physiotherapists, occupational therapsts etc. so its not just the custodial/clerical jobs as you point out.

  • duck and cover
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    Greg - I love your private industry utopia . . . There is a real healthcare worker shortage in rural NS and if you offer less money to those areas it will only exacerbate the issue. . . . Occam's razor

  • Greg
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    Thanks Outdated! Very well said!

    Duck and Cover, I believe it's the unions and those who believe thier spin who living in a utopia. The sense of entitlement is certainly out of this world. Furthermore, you make it sound like all the rural workers could get up and move to the city, be given a job for more money, and live happily ever after ... sounds like a fairy tale. And where the heck does Occam's Razor fit into this? Do you even know what it is or means?

    DJ, I'm aware that OTs and Physio's are included but when you look at the make up of the group you will find that the ratio of these practitioners to the all of the clerical/housekeeping/etc workers is extremely small. Any given hospital will have a handful of practitioners compared to dozens if not hundreds of the other.

  • NS Girl
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Let them walk.. there are so many people in this province that need work we can replace them... you can get non unionized employees in there that won't walk out. Let these people walk out and be faced with the no employment opportunities that so many others are faced with right now in this poor economic times. There us that are willing to work for less then they make but cannot find employment!

  • Sunshine
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    What the union is disputing with the government is all about KEEPING parity with the Capital Health District. Wage parity was achieved several contracts ago and has been maintained since then. Acceptance of a 1% wage increase would mean what was fought for years ago by the unionized workers, would all be in vain. Keep in mind that non unionized workers in health care do not have to negotiate for any wage increases - any wage or benefit enhancement is a given - usually before any union negotiations are even started. And generally speaking non unionized postions are usually paid much more than their union counterparts, and as often as not these jobs do not require any more education or experience as the unionized positions. I don't think a 2.9% wage increase is asking for the moon.

  • Irene
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Oh my NS Girl: I take it from your comments that you have never worked a union job. You cannot bring non-union workers into a job that is unionized. Not to mention the fact that the people in these jobs are trained for their jobs. Also, union workers make more money and usually have more money to spend in the area. Also, if you were to see the amount the higher paid union workers have taken off their pay through taxes, that go to help everyone, you wouldn't be so quick to say replace them. I want a qualified lab-tech to take my blood, not someone who isn't qualified. I am supporting the union workers all the way.

  • Greg
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Duck and Cover, nobody is being discriminated against based on geography. That is foolish. People may earn less money here than in the city, but that is how economics works. People choose to live here for reasons other than money. Most educated folks, realize that money is not a motivator, but an enabler. Quality and pace of life, comfort, and those intrinsic criteria are motivators and drive us to make the decisions that we do. So, if it is really money that you think will make you happiest, move to the city and deal with all the BS that comes with that, but do not claim discrimination. Wages vary from location to location as a result of supply and demand and comparison to similar jobs in the immediate area ... this is why people were able to move to Alberta and make lots of money doing the same jobs they could do here for less.

  • Another 2 Cents
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Lets get rid of unions!

    Then the government and every other business can dictate how much they will pay someone, tell people when they will work, fire people because they feel like it, hire whoever they want based on nothing but who they know, and promote who they want, not who's deserving.

    I hope you can sense my sarcasm here!

    Any government employee across the government should get paid the same for years service, education, etc. If I have more experience than you, and more education, than I should get paid more than the next person doing the same job.

    But if we both come off the street, meaning, we have qualified for a job, say in Amherst and in Halifax, then we should get paid the same.

    We can't compare private business to public services; it's comparing apples to water!!

    The argument about homes between the city and rural NS, please, I moved from the city where my home was actually cheaper than here in Amherst! The price of fuel in the city is cheaper, property assessments are cheaper, and the city has all the services one needs within a very close distance. The difference in the cost of living is not that significant.

    Are there benefits to living in rural NS, sure, there are, and I enjoy it, but I also miss the convenience of the city.

    Like I said before, roll back the salaries of the higher paid civil servants to be the same across NS.

    I mean we are only talking 2.9%!!! Or, give the union the 1%, and role back the others by 1.9%.

    Wait, the city government workers would be up in arms because they would be getting less, that's what is happening around the province right now!!

  • duck and cover
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    The point has clearly gone over your head NS Girl. Sure, let's fire everyone in rural NS and replace them with low-wage replacements. Think of the wages that will no longer be spent at tertiary businesses. Educated, competent workers will either move from this area to Halifax or another province where wages are higher . . . since we're now discriminating based on geographic location we might as well throw gender, age and race back into it!!!!!

  • Greg
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    DJ, I am not suggesting that people in Halifax should make more, I am stating that it is common that that they do make more. And there are solid reason for it being so. There's no precedent! It's not a secret! People already know this, yet they remain because of the real motivators.

    I completely agree with your comments about the need for health care professionals (ie, doctors and nurses) and we should be offering more to attract these people ... because there is a high demand and a low supply. That's how the economic argument works. But in this case we are talking about lab techs, clerical, housekeeping, etc. Not to say their jobs are any less important, but the supply of people to fill these jobs is greater and the qualification required are fewer. Clerical jobs at the hospitals should be compared to clerical jobs at other businesses in the area and I think you will find that rates of pay are already on the high side of competitive.

  • Steve
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45


    Every time you rattle Murray Scotts' cage your going to get a comment like this. A little responsible journalism would be most appreciated, there was no need to add this to an otherwise informative article.
    IMHO as always

  • Kent
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    CUPE & Taxpayer - As one of those unionised workers and as a taxpayer may I suggest that if parity is the key then this can be accomplished and the budget line spared. This can be done by CUPE accepting the 1% offered to workers outside Capital Health and by government rolling back the Capital workers to that same 1%. The government may find it difficult to pull off without protests from the centre of our provincial universe but the rest of us may find it a more acceptable response.

  • Jeremy
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Maybe if Dexter never gave 341 millon of his 525 million dollar defeicit to the universities we wouldnt even be talkin about this mess that money was to be given to Universities over 3 years not all in year one when he new over half of unionized contracts were expired, now he has an excuse that the province is so broke when really over half the deficit was given away by him but what this does is next year when the budget comes out he can say look at me and my budget woopy , Im not sayin the universities dont deserve the money i just think its his plan to look good in the future and try to save a few dollars on negotiations when really all these people want is a raise its been 3 years since the members of the school board had a raise but the cost of living keeps going up and for the 30 cents extra a hour they want wont cover the raise in cost of living and what about all the pension money that was lost there rates have gone up on them and there medical benefits thats more and more off the check each time the rate raises so really there making less money than they did 3 years ago with all these raises in rates and no raises in pay it makes it tougher than it was before . I know alot of people dont like unions well thats fine you dont have to work for them. Unionized employees dont get to walk up to there boss every 6 months or so and ask for a raise so for the 30 cents a hour or so they want which still wont cover what they have lost, and for Greg if u worked in the same job and did the exact same things as somone else in the province you wouldnt feel to great about it would ya if i shoveled crap at a farm and was working beside u doing the same thing should I get payed more I dont think so.

  • greg
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Has anyone ever done the math on this situation. They are offered a 1% increase, and they want 2.9%, so they are fighting over 1.9%. This works out to just about the equivalent of one weeks pay. So, let us say they go on strike. If they are out for one week and then the government says they can have their 2.9% ... they have already lost what they gained by being on strike. There must a lot of union spin going on if this makes sense to people.

  • lola
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    greg,ya,let's get someone off the street to do your xray,and hope that they xray the right part when the dr.orders zygomatic arch.let's hope that they set the machine properly so you're not irradiated to death. it takes 4 yrs. now to become an xray tech.also lab and respiratory techs have multiple yrs. of university.don't talk about professions you know nothing about.

  • lola
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    greg,why do you keep listing nurses in your comments,xray techs have the same amount of yrs of education as nurses,but get paid less. is that fair?also,there is a major shortage of all the technical groups.why would we have to go to school for 4 yrs.if you just have to read an instruction manual. oh and by the way,did you figure out what body part zygomatic arch is.

  • greg
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Lola, I think you would be surprised what professions I know about, and particularly in healthcare. Where in my past posts did I say anything about bringing people off the streets to do these jobs? Where did I say they didn't need education? I said the requirements are fewer than those for doctors and nurses. University education and specialized training are nothing unique to the healthcare industry. The bigger point I was making is the scarcity of qualified people to do the jobs (doctors and nurses).

    I work for a large company where most entry-level positions require a 4 year bachelor. Does that entitle these workers to anything other than the privilege to be employed? Give me a break.

    And to answer your question, as ridiculous as it is, if you brought someone off the street who had the right aptitude for a technical job, and trained them on how to use the equipment and how to read the instructions, I am pretty sure they could handle being an x-ray tech --- not much different from all the people who work in manufacturing and build/produce all the items you rely on everyday.

    But it was nice of you to voice your opinion ... thanks.

  • DJ
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Gregg: You are setting a very dangerous precedent. Saying that people who live in Halifax should be paid more than people in rural NS that do the exact same work will undoubtedly contribute to the mass exodus from rural Nova Scotia. We need to find ways to attract qualified workers to the rural areas rather than giving them extra reasons to leave or never come here in the first place. This is especially true for health care professionals. While its attractive to think that money doesn't matter, I firmly believe that with the cost of post-secondary education these days, even the smallest difference in pay scale between urban and rural areas will greatly contribute to young professionals deciding to work in urban areas over rural areas.

  • outdated
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Unions are outdated dinosaurs that are more of a hindrance than a help in modern society. Unions should not be able to use the public at large as a hostage in their negotiations with the government. Also Greg is right there is no scenario that wage parody is realistic between large urban centres and smaller ones whether you are comparing Amherst to Halifax or Halifax to Toronto. Doctors, nurses and most unionized employees are either at the realistic threshold of reasonable wages for their given jobs or already over. Giving workers more money is not going to help fix our grossly over valued and over inflated economy.