MNU strike threat produces winners and losers

By Ken Waddell
The Banner
Foreshadowed by the strike that never was going to be, the Manitoba Nurses Union (MNU) and the province of Manitoba have settled their differences.
The nurses got 10 per cent over 2 years. That’s in addition to a substantial increase in the last agreement. Nobody would argue that we shouldn’t pay nurses properly. They do a huge service to our communities. They are often literally life-savers.
However, the issues that could be legitimately raised are numerous.
During the last 10 years, Manitoba hasn’t improved very much in the number of nurses. The biggest problem is that 59 per cent of nurses work part time. We have an 800 nurse shortage. The solution is mathematically simple. Take 1600 part-time nurses and give them full time positions. It’s not rocket science. The younger nurses, the ones with student loans and potentially with higher family expenses might welcome full time positions. The nurses union wouldn’t like it because the more nurses they have the more basic fees they collect. It’s in the union’s best interests to have more nurses working part time than having fewer nurses working full-time. It’s a numbers game.
The MNU may also protest about overtime shifts. That’s appropriate, overtime is expensive, exhausting and often an indicator of bad planning. However, the union gets their dollars off wages and it would be interesting to know what percentage of the unions dues (if any) come from overtime wages.
If the union directly benefits their coffers from higher rates of overtime wages they aren’t likely to really want to reduce overtime.
Another issue is if health care in Manitoba has indeed been turned over to the Regional Health Authorities, then why is the province negotiating the collective agreements with the MNU. It may be the best way to go but what it does show is that the RHAs have very little control over their budgets. The health department still calls all the shots and in doing so hamstring the RHAs. The RHAs are as big a farce to the province as the District Health Advisory Councils (DHACs) are to the RHAs.
And the biggest question is when a strike vote was announced, did anybody really take the MNU seriously? After all, in 2007, the MNU ran expensive TV ads proclaiming how wonderful the NDP government was. The fact that not much has improved was glossed over but the major point was the MNU said the NDP were doing a wonderful job and warned the voters to not vote for the conservatives. Main message, NDP good, PC bad, bad, very bad. So when the MNU threatened to strike against the NDP government, nobody took them very seriously. It was a charade.
The final question would be, how much money did the MNU actually spend to swing the election to the NDP. Whatever it was, it will likely be offset quite quickly by increased union dues on their negotiated pay increase. The ads were a good investment for the MNU. The union probably isn’t out of pocket at all.
The sum total of what happened is this. The MNU ran ads favouring the NDP, the NDP took taxpayers dollars and caved in to the MNU without so much as a whimper and the MNU gets their money all back. It’s a great deal for the unions. It’s a great deal for the NDP.
The losers? Well there’s two losers. One is the truth and the other is the public.

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