Beyond the Headlines

The bar has now been set for health care worker wage hikes

Posted: May 29, 2012 11:01 AM ET Last Updated: May 29, 2012 11:01 AM ET

The Nova Scotia Government Employees Union can't be too happy with their brothers and sisters at CUPE.
3,500 members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees who work for hospitals throughout Nova Scotia have now ratified a new agreement that gives then a 7.5 per cent wage increase over three years. That's not a bad wage hike, but the deal effectively kneecaps the NSGEU's efforts to get its healthcare workers an even bigger pay cheque.
You'll remember the 11th hour deal to avert a strike at Capital District Health. Both sides agreed to send the issue of wages to arbitration. Capital Health was offering 6.5 per cent over three years, while the NSGEU was after a 9.05 per cent increase.
The arbitration board is scheduled to meet on Saturday, but with this CUPE deal, both sides can now basically mail in their submissions.
With wage parity a paramount issue among healthcare workers and their unions, the arbitration board's hands are now effectively tied. It's certainly not going to award the 3,600 NSGEU workers less than their CUPE colleagues, and it's not likely to upset the apple cart by offering them more.
So, 7.5 per cent over three years, is now the benchmark for all healthcare workers in Nova Scotia.
It's hard to say why CUPE settled for 7.5 per cent just before the NSGEU was to make its case for a 9.05 per cent wage hike.  Perhaps it was afraid the arbitrator would side with Capital Health, and knock it down closer to 6 per cent, or maybe CUPE simply wanted to set the bar this time around.
NSGEU president Joan Jessome was fairly diplomatic in her response to the CUPE deal, but she says "it would have been nice if they had waited." 
The NSGEU still has several more health care units who are looking for new contracts and the Nova Scotia Nurses Union will begin negotiations for its 6,500 members in the coming weeks.
The new CUPE deal ensures they won't get less than 7.5 per cent over three years, but it probably guarantees they won't get more, either.

CORRECTION: An earlier posting had the CUPE members receiving 7% over three years; the article has been changed to reflect the correct figure of 7.5%.
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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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