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N.S. government ‘completely ignored’ arbitrator ruling on teaching specialists, NSTU claims

Nova Scotia Teachers Union building. .
Nova Scotia Teachers Union building. . File/ Global News

The Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) says it’s willing to go to the province’s highest court over a recent arbitrator decision it claims the government has “completely ignored.”

According to an NSTU memo obtained by Global News, the union claims some 12-month employees have been informed their working conditions will remain status quo this year, despite a recent arbitrator ruling that ordered the province to reinstate their status as union members.

“The NSTU has significant concerns with any such messaging from the Employer (government),” the memo to members states.

“The NSTU is currently in discussions with the (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development) regarding these concerns.”

READ MORE: Nova Scotia school psychologists, speech pathologists once again members of NSTU

Last week, arbitrator Eric Slone ruled that the provincial government violated the union’s rights when around 60 school social workers, school psychologists, and speech language pathologists were removed from the union.

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The province announced in 2018 that it would continue to hire specialists, but no longer require them to be certified as teachers. That was intended to ensure they could work 12 months of the year, rather than only during the school year. The NSTU filed a grievance on the matter, claiming it violated the Teachers’ Professional Agreement.

Slone’s ruling restores the specialists to the NSTU and ordered the government to reimburse the union for lost dues plus interest.

NSTU president Paul Wozney says the union knew there were aspects of the ruling that would take longer to finalize, including how much government would pay in pension differential and health plan premiums. But he claims since the ruling was released on Nov. 25, government has “completely ignored” its findings.

“It was supposed to happen right now,” Wozney told Global News on Thursday. “It wasn’t a wait-and-see or see what you think about it, it was do it right now.

“The government has instead communicated the exact opposite of the award.”

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The province did not respond to questions from Global News. In a statement, Labour Relations Minister Mark Furey reiterated the government is disappointed in the decision and that it has not made definitive statements regarding next steps. Last week, Furey said the province would be looking at “all options,” including legislation, to ensure the specialists can work year-round.

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But Wozney calls that assertion “poppycock, bluster, and a political talking point,” claiming government isn’t working with the union.

“The first option could have been, should have been, has always been, to work with the union to negotiate the ability to deliver services in the summertime under an aspect of the collective agreement,” said Wozney.

“(Government is) looking at all the things that they want to do that don’t involve the union.”

N.S. government and Teachers Union at odds again following arbitrator rule
N.S. government and Teachers Union at odds again following arbitrator rule

The union memo claims that teaching specialists employed by regional centres for education are still being told they’re 12-month employees, and that the original contract they signed remains in effect.

The union also says specialists were told they have to use vacation time over the holiday break, or else they would be required to report to the regional offices. Wozney says due to the time-sensitive nature of the holiday break, the union was able to resolve that issue.

“We effectively told the government that every single specialist who was required to work during the holiday break … we would file a separate grievance on every day that they were forced to work,” Wozney said.

Union seeking certification of arbitrator ruling in Supreme Court

The memo says the union is now in the midst of registering the arbitration award as a court order with the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. A hearing is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 13.

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If the ruling is certified as a court order, Wozney says that could leave government employees in contempt if they don’t follow its findings.

“Now I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think there are a whole lot of people that would be happy to be found in contempt of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, because there’s not a lot of places you could go to appeal that decision,” he said.

READ MORE: N.S. school psychologists, speech pathologists raise concerns over hiring of non-union workers

The NSTU is also seeking an emergency meeting with arbitrator Eric Slone to discuss its concerns.

“We continue to be dismayed at the government’s complete and utter unwillingness to work with the union. We have made every attempt to negotiate and collaborate,” Wozney said.

“We offered to negotiate a way forward in good faith in a way that respects people’s rights, and the government has said no, no, no, over and over again.”

With files from Sarah Ritchie.