THE BLIZZARD DIDN’T SCARE RACHEL CREASOR. Neither did the law. Nor the fact she was the only one picketing. She knew what she had to do back in February 2017 and she did it. Five years later the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia agreed with her.
The court ruled on June 14 that a 2017 law that imposed a labour contract on N.S. teachers was unconstitutional. Justice John Keith said the law violated good-faith collective bargaining “and was terribly wrong.”
A singular act of solidarity
A ferocious blizzard had shut down the province back on February 13, 2017. The government was forced into postponing the introduction of their anti-union bill for one day. But the blizzard did not stop Rachel Creasor.
Creasor was a teacher at Glooscap Elementary School. She drove 100 kilometres through the blizzard into Halifax to protest the loss of her collective rights. She picketed all by herself, back and forth, outside the gate of Province House, leaning into the blizzard winds for long hours to make her point. Creasor received province- wide media attention for her courageous act of solidarity
Neither her brave act, nor a one-day strike by the teachers made any difference to the government in 2017. They passed their anti-union bill. But, a court action brought by the union has now undone all that.
How to recover losses
The question now is what the union can and should do to recover what the 2017 bill stole from them.
Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, says it’s complicated to undo the actions of the Stephen McNeil government.
Wozney said some of the damage caused by the province’s actions, particularly the restrictions on the ability to strike, have been erased by the court decision. However, he said the contractual losses of teachers remain unresolved.
“The years when the wages and contract language would have applied have already passed .… We’re now dealing with a different government, and how do you address those harms?” he asked in an interview.
The Supreme Court decision noted that when the bill passed, the union lost key provisions it had negotiated, including two days of professional leave and the creation of a labour-management council that would provide for arbitration if disputes over working conditions couldn’t be resolved.
The imposed contract set wage increases to three per cent over four years. It also wound down a long-term service award, which had allowed teachers to accrue up to one per cent of their salary each year toward a lump-sum payment at the end of their careers.
Common front possible
Wozney says the union’s options include appealing the court decision to seek more remedies, or attempting to persuade the current Progressive Conservative government to restore the union’s lost gains through negotiations.
Wozney said one other option is for the NSTU to work with other unions as they consider their next steps in a constitutional challenge of Bill 148, a separate bill the former McNeil government passed that imposed a wage package on tens of thousands of public sector workers.
The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, along with the Federation of Labour are considering “appropriate next steps with the legal challenge to Bill 148.”
However, what is needed most says Wozney, is labour law reform to discourage similar behaviour from future premiers.
“McNeil benefited politically from this,” says Wozney. “He used teachers as a punching bag to play to a political base. He won the election by the skin of his teeth, and he did so on the backs of a base who believed it was right to be tough on unions.”
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