Thursday, January 14, 2016

New Brunswick needs first contract legislation

New Brunswickers are currently watching a labour dispute play out in the Hartland area.
Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1288P working at Covered Bridge Potato Chips have been in a legal position to strike since June. Approximately 20 members began a strike on Tuesday, Jan. 5.
The sides have yet to agree to a first contract and details contained in a labour board decision from August, 2015 do not indicate a resolution is coming soon. During a session with a mediator, owner Ryan Albright states, "I will give my employees what they want for the increase of wages and the benefits they were looking for, but never ever, ever in a union environment."
First and foremost, an owner cannot prevent a group of people from forming a union. In fact, workers at the plant have a right to unionize - one upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada. In a six-to-one decision delivered on Jan. 16, 2015 the Supreme Court ruled the right to freedom of association enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes a right to meaningful collective bargaining.
Since the workers have a right to organize, New Brunswick needs a law to prevent an employer from simply refusing to meaningfully negotiate with a newly formed union. This is where first contract legislation - something most provinces currently have - comes into play. Essentially, this legislation would help both the employer and union negotiate a first contract by providing arbitration. This would help establish the first contract from which both parties can work in the future as well as providing an independent third party to help ensure an equitable and fair deal is reached.
As it stands now, NB effectively forces new unions to strike when employers are not coming to the table in a meaningful way.
In 2013, Nova Scotia made some changes to its Trade Union Act to enable the Labour Board to get involved and have the first contract settled by binding arbitration if it determines one of the parties is hampering the bargaining process.
This type of legislation is designed to try and let both sides come to an agreement on their own, but provides arbitration should the need arise while avoiding a strike.
The New Brunswick Union believes this is a reasonable approach, one that would help both employers and workers alike.