As always we get to hear some of Gawronsky’s background, how long she has been part of the MGEU and how she rose up the ranks.
As the biggest group of public employees the Government of Manitoba deals with, some 32,000, and by far the biggest union affected by the Public Services Sustainability Act, Michelle Gawronsky and the MGEU have been both intensely interested in, and negatively impacted by, its provisions.
Just after the election in April of 2016, Gawronsky had asked to meet with the Premier to launch MGEU’s relationship with the new government. For one reason or another, they did not end up meeting until November 1, 2016. During that meeting the Premier mentioned that they had “inherited a mess” and might want feedback from the MGEU. Gawronsky replied that she would be happy to meet with him at any time to discuss what the concerns are and how to solve the problems. Gawronsky specifically mentioned financial concerns, but the Premier did not respond.
At some point (I think it was in late 2017, but I am not sure). Rick Stevenson called Gawronsky to talk about the possibility of mandatory reduced work weeks (currently there is a system where MGEU employees can voluntarily agree to work fewer days).
“Is this about Bill 28 (the PSSA)?” Gawronsky asked. Stevenson didn’t answer and instead said something about work/life balance and salaries.
“Well, it isn’t time yet,” she said. “We have the GEMA (the general management agreement for MGEU members) coming up, and we still don’t know what is going to happen with Bill 28 and this passed but not proclaimed situation.”
I gather that that was the end of that discussion.
Shannon Carson then shifted to the MGEU submissions to the committee responsible for reviewing Bill 28, which Gawronsky herself made. It reiterates the union’s general approach:
The MGEU is open to negotiation in a collaborative spirit and urges the government to reconsider Bill 28. Let’s move forward with free bargaining and get a fair deal at the table. The MGEU has always had a strong drive to cooperate to help solve problems. For example, the wage freezes it agreed to in 2010-2011 due to the 2008 financial crisis.
Gawronsky’s submissions ended with noting that Bill 28 is disrespectful to the unions and shows disdain for collective bargaining. Carson has her explain:
It’s disrespectful because we are willing to take 0% wage increases in collective bargaining when they are needed. They do not need to be imposed by Bill 28 in this heavy-handed way. (Yeah, good point.)
When Carson then quotes the Minister of Finance saying something about costs in the Legislature, Gawronsky comments that:
The MGEU is aware of the problems, and willing to sit down with the government to find common solutions. That offer still stands and we have yet to be taken up on it.
We then find out some additional details on the effects the Public Services Sustainability Act has had on a few collective agreements related to the MGEU. This is mostly to illustrate the frustration the MGEU is experiencing, as the full details are covered elsewhere.
Gawronsky tells us that, for example, in the GEMA (the big one for MGEU members), it is just as much in the union’s interest as it is in the Government’s, to ensure that the quality and cost-effectiveness of public services be maintained. But, she points out, MGEU employees are a fundamental component of that quality. It is in all parties’ bests interests to achieve these goals of “sustainable” delivery of public services.
And moreover, MGEU employees are all experts in their fields where they work, and have lots of ideas. She gets suggestions from members all the time, such as from correctional and probation officers about improving the system, and ideas from the highways department about preventive measures instead of spending more money to fix our roads when they fall apart.
I miss what she said next because I leave to run to the washroom and there aren’t any that close to Courtroom #210 that I know of, so it takes me some time. But what I think happened while I was gone was that they reviewed a little of the Westlab situation and contrasted it with what happened with Doctors Manitoba. Whatever they discussed, this is a good time to fill you in on those bits.