First contract arbitration: tilting the balance or righting the balance?


So Nova Scotia’s largest non-union employers are eager to preserve an unfettered collective bargaining process. They are, they claim, deeply concerned about “a third party deciding what will be the appropriate terms and conditions of employment.”

How progressive.

Where were they when the Harper government systematically ripped the guts out of that process during the recent Air Canada and Canada Post disputes?


Oh, right. They don’t want to preserve collective bargaining; they want to prevent it.

Last week, the Nova Scotia Employers’ Roundtable—made up of 21 employers “representing” 34,000 workers—sent a letter to Premier Darrell Dexter, expressing horror at even the whiff his government might contemplate “first contract arbitration” legislation.

First contract arbitration is specifically designed to protect workers who choose to join a union and whose employers then refuse to bargain in good faith on a first contract. It happens—rarely, but it does. When it does, the legislation provides, initially, for conciliation or mediation. If that fails, there is the big stick of an imposed settlement. Studies show the threat of first contract arbitration increases the chances of a negotiated contract and reduces work stoppages by a “statistically significant” 65 per cent.

Conservative leader Jamie Baillie calls it a “crazy idea” and warns it will be a job killer.

Really? Six provinces and the federal government have similar laws. Eighty 80 per cent of Canadian workers—including the 15 per cent of Nova Scotians working in federally regulated industries—are already covered.

Where are all those dead jobs, Jamie?

For his part, Liberal leader Stephen McNeil frets such legislation will tilt the balance in favour of workers.

Earth to Stephen. During the 1970s, Nova Scotia governments—at the behest of powerful, and powerfully anti-union, Michelin Tire—rewrote the province’s labour laws on several occasions to make it virtually impossible for the company’s workers to organize, let alone bargain for a first contract. Those laws are still on the books.

Tilt the balance? Perhaps it’s time to take the corporate thumb—and fist—off the scale.

And perhaps—just perhaps—it’s time Stephen McNeil and Jamie Baillie stopped shilling for the powerful and spoke for the least powerful, including unorganized workers.

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