Manitoba's Conservative government takes another step in battles with unions

Possible legal actions being considered by unions: CUPE
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 05/11/2018
Labour relations
The changes were promised in 2016 by Premier Brian Pallister, who is already facing a lawsuit from public-sector unions over recent legislation that would freeze wages. The law was passed by the legislature last year but has not yet been enacted. SHUTTERSTOCK

WINNIPEG (CP) — A labour leader raised the spectre of legal action Thursday as Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government took more steps in its battle with organized labour.

The government appointed a commissioner to oversee a forced merger of many of the province's health-care union bargaining units. Robert Pruden — a former provincial director of labour relations — is to guide the 18-month process of cutting the number of units from more than 180 to a few dozen.

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said having fewer bargaining units will mean less time spent at the bargaining table for both sides and make the workplace more efficient.

“When you have far less bargaining units, the ability to be able to manage the system and not have to determine who is in what unit and what does one agreement say that the other one doesn't ... it'll save money,” he said.

The government wants one bargaining unit to cover all workers in one category — nurses or technicians, for example — in each regional health authority. Unions say the move is heavy-handed, could drive down wages and benefits and will take away the right of workers to determine who can represent them.

“There's some fundamental unfairness to that... interfering with the constitutional right that people have for freedom of association and to be able to bargain collectively,” said Lee McLeod, a regional director with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

McLeod said CUPE and other unions are discussing possible legal options.

The changes were promised in 2016 by Premier Brian Pallister, who is already facing a lawsuit from public-sector unions over recent legislation that would freeze wages. The law was passed by the legislature last year but has not yet been enacted.

On another labour front, the government introduced a bill Thursday that would do away with the former NDP government's practice of having one labour agreement cover all workers on major public construction projects. The project labour agreements, as they're called, also require non-unionized workers to pay dues and be governed by the same requirements and benefits as their unionized counterparts.

The Tories campaigned on a promise to end what they called “forced unionization.” Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler said the previous approach discouraged companies employing non-unionize workers from bidding for contracts.

The NDP and unions said the project labour agreements ensure a level playing field for all workers on a project and help ensure the projects are completed on time and on budget.

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