September 19, 2018

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New wrinkle in wage-control bill saga

Brandon lab, U of M faculty association face unanswered questions in bargaining

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/1/2018 (259 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A 127-person laboratory in Brandon may be able to bargain freely for a wage increase April 1, even though 99 per cent of the provincial public sector have yet to reach collective agreements falling under government wage controls.

Premier Brian Pallister’s Bill 28 imposing wage controls on 120,000 workers has been passed, but not proclaimed. The legislation awaits its first court challenge in late May, but its impact continues to become more convoluted and complex.

Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union Local 351 at Westman Lab quietly settled with the government in June, only the second bargaining unit to accept a four-year deal under the terms of Bill 28.

Local 351 had been without a collective agreement since April 1, 2014, so the CBA will expire in less than three months (on March 31). Having satisfied the terms of Bill 28, Local 351 presumably can bargain freely with its employers and seek wage increases and improved benefits.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/1/2018 (259 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A 127-person laboratory in Brandon may be able to bargain freely for a wage increase April 1, even though 99 per cent of the provincial public sector have yet to reach collective agreements falling under government wage controls.

Premier Brian Pallister’s Bill 28 imposing wage controls on 120,000 workers has been passed, but not proclaimed. The legislation awaits its first court challenge in late May, but its impact continues to become more convoluted and complex.

Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union Local 351 at Westman Lab quietly settled with the government in June, only the second bargaining unit to accept a four-year deal under the terms of Bill 28.

Local 351 had been without a collective agreement since April 1, 2014, so the CBA will expire in less than three months (on March 31). Having satisfied the terms of Bill 28, Local 351 presumably can bargain freely with its employers and seek wage increases and improved benefits.

However, it’s not that simple.

The Pallister government has also passed, but not proclaimed, Bill 29, which forces health-care bargaining units to be merged into a handful of new — and much larger — ones.

Can Local 351 and its employer freely bargain, or would the workers first have to be swallowed up in a new bargaining unit? And if so, could the 127 people then be forced to undergo four more years of wage controls?

"It wouldn’t be appropriate to speculate," David von Meyenfeldt, press secretary to Finance Minister Cameron Friesen, said Tuesday.

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen did not respond to a request for comment.

"This government has virtually put a standstill on bargaining," Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck said in an interview Tuesday. "They’ve put a shadow over bargaining."

Tens of thousands of public employees have been without a collective agreement since various dates in 2016 and 2017, but Rebeck said only the Westman Lab and the University of Manitoba Faculty Association have settled — and similar to MGEU Local 351, UMFA has told the university it considers the deal invalid if the courts scrap Bill 28.

Other public workers whose existing deals end this year are also ready to talk, Rebeck said. "Everyone else has been asking to meet, asking to bargain," but there’s only silence from the government. "They’re effectively freezing everyone."

He accused the Tories of having no idea how to handle Local 351’s situation: "I can’t guess what they’ll do with that. I don’t think they’ve thought of that, they haven’t thought this through... Does Bill 29 have to be addressed first? We’ve asked that question."

The province, obviously, did allow Local 351 to settle retroactive to 2014 before coming under Bill 29, but the unions argue they can’t get an answer how everyone else in the health-care system will be handled, and whether Local 351 can now go for a new deal before being swallowed up in a larger bargaining unit. As Friesen’s aide said, it’s inappropriate to speculate.

MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky said Tuesday she’ll oppose any suggestion the Tories may try to force Bill 28 on the 127 Brandon workers for eight years.

"We find it difficult to believe the government intends to impose the Bill 28 wage freezes on any group of workers in two successive agreements," Gawronsky said. "Treating a group of health-care workers that unfairly would add insult to the injury that is Bill 28. And MGEU will continue to take every step possible to make sure these workers are treated fairly."

University of Manitoba labour studies Prof. Julie Guard said Tuesday the situation is far too complicated for simple answers, but, "I don’t think I’ve seen any labour legislation as sweeping in its scope as Bill 29. It gives remarkably broad powers to the government that are very unusual and may well be unique.

"As for Bill 28, of course other governments have restricted public-sector wages. In the past, similar legislation to restrict public sector wages has not survived court challenges, and there is reason to believe this one won’t either," Guard said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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