Patrick Colford, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, resigned from his position on the board of the Miramichi Emergency Center for Women (MECW) on October 16. Colford made his resignation public in order to point out his concerns over labour relations between the board and the staff.
“We as a board of directors have made decisions that have put the Miramichi Emergency Center for Women in a crisis situation that has put our staff in a strike position,” said Colford.
Colford was on the negotiating team for the MECW as they were trying to reach a collective agreement with the staff.
“I was appointed to the negotiations team, then dismissed along with two others. I am confident that a deal could have been reached in a timely manner had the board not chosen to dismiss us and hire the law firm,” argued Colford
MECW staff are represented by CUPE Local 5243. CUPE representative Guy Ward explained the current position of the staff: “We went into bargaining in late 2015. In April, the board hired lawyers to represent them. We reached an impasse then. We held a strike vote at the end of June and have been in a strike position since then.”
According to Ward, the workers are only asking to put the existing relationship between the staff and MECW into a collective agreement.
“What we are asking is what the (staff) currently enjoy in the workplace today. They have an employee handbook which is a policy and procedure manual. Language on hours of work, vacation time, other benefits has to be in the collective agreement … It’s not something new to add to the budget,” stated Ward.
Ward said that the union has attempted to reach out to the employer to come back to the bargaining table.
“In September, I asked the Department of Post Secondary Education, Training and Labour for a mediator, but both parties have to agree (to the mediator). We were unable to get the employer to agree to come back to the table,” said Ward.
According to Ward, the tone of bargaining changed once the board decided to negotiate through their lawyers rather than continue to use a negotiating team from the board, which included Colford.
“Mr. Colford did not sit with us at the bargaining table, but was there to help on the employer side. This was all new for them. … It’s an all volunteer board. Patrick offered to help, to assist them, but then on the advice of their lawyer, the former bargaining committee was removed. If we would have continued, we would not be in this situation. We would have a deal,” said Ward.
Ward expressed concern about MECW spending money on legal costs when there were other options.
“The clientele need the money. That’s why they get funding from the government, and why people give donations to the shelter, certainly not to waste money on (legal bills),” said Ward.
Referring to when Colford was still involved in the negotiations, Ward added, “for a fraction of the money, we would have a deal.”
Colford was told by the board that he was removed due to a conflict of interest.
“Where it became difficult, quite frankly, was when I gave labour advice, and volunteered to help with negotiations … I was removed from the negotiating team along with the two other people who were on the team, because the law firm told the chair of the board we were all in a conflict of interest simply for the reason that we were union members,” said Colford.
Colford explained that occupying the position of president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, where he represents workers, while also acting as a member of the board of MECW, where he is on the employer end, was not a conflict.
“I did not occupy the seat as Patrick Colford, President of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour. I occupied it as Patrick Colford, member of the community, and wanting to help in any way I could to protect the women and children of the Miramichi area,” argued Colford.
Colford pointed out his difficulty with his decision to leave the board.
“For the last 3 years, I have had the honour and privilege to be a board member of the Miramichi Emergency Centre for Women, a position that allowed me to play a unique and important role in fighting for the rights of some of most vulnerable people in our community … This was not an easy decision nor was it taken lightly. I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished bringing the transition house out of a past scandal. I also have a deep appreciation for the level of commitment of the board of directors at that time,” said Colford.
Asaf Rachid is on the board of the NB Media Co-op.