13 February 2009

Nurses, government do the power dance

First, government tried threatening the nurses with an imposed settlement and back-to-work legislation in hopes of frightening them off their strike vote.

Then, when that didn’t work, they tried to lure them back to the table now with a significant change of position.

Then, when the nurses didn’t cancel their strike vote and return to the bargaining table immediately, the Premier and finance minister said they were disappointed the nurses’ didn’t accept the government’s olive branch. The even tried to bring up the financial scare issue of the looming deficit.

There are a few of things to bear in mind:

  1. Nurses accepted the olive branch.  They just are going back to the bargaining table with a strike mandate in their back pocket, not when the Premier and finance minister would like.
  2. It’s polling season.  Don’t under-estimate that timing issue as a motivating factor for an administration that spends an inordinate amount of time massaging polls. The provincial government had plenty of time to deal with this issue before now.  Their panic at having the government pollster in the field while the nurses carry on a strike vote isn’t a reason for the nurses to simply stop everything.
  3. What happened to the bubble?  Before Christmas everything was rosy according to the Premier, finance minister and the government’s favourite economist.  Bond Papers readers knew better. It seems a little disingenuous for government to be singing the deficit tune now.
  4. Back to the table now interrupts the strike vote.  The Premier and finance minister – both experienced lawyers – know that if the nurses interrupt their strike vote now, they’d have to start from scratch later on.  That would give government an additional six weeks or more if talks failed this time. Nurses lose by going back to the table prematurely so they aren’t likely to do it. Claiming they aren’t interested in talks sounds a little precious  - even desperate - at this point.
  5. Did you hear the eyelids slamming shut?  Government’s tactics in dealing with the nurses have been clumsy, to put it mildly.  Jerome’s year-end deadline passed as if it was nothing.  His threat to legislate vanished this week.  It’s hard for the nurses to feel any sympathy for the provincial government when it has stuck to its hard line all this time.  It’s harder again for nurses to take government seriously when they first of all make threats and then don’t carry them out.  This week nurses heard Jerome Kennedy’s eyelids slamming shut as he blinked, big time.  That may not have been his intention but that’s what nurses saw. No on is surprised they are carrying on with their strategy;  it seems to be working just as government’s obviously isn’t.
  6. Bad jokes don’t help.  Danny Williams didn’t help matters with his widely reported, cheesy joke about not wanting to get sick and have to face the province’s nurses in a hospital. He needs to throw away the guide to public speaking and joke telling Roger Grimes left him.  That’s tongue in cheek, by the way.  Williams lambasted Grimes for telling an off colour joke when Grimes spoke to American bankers a few years ago.   The little jest at nurses expense delivered to an audience at a national conference in St. John’s is every bit as bad or worse.

This might turn out to be the most interesting year in recent memory.  The provincial government may have finally found a group that can’t be bullied or intimidated or even fooled for that matter.

The Premier should call up his predecessor and get some better advice.  Brian Tobin tackled the nurses and didn’t come out of it all that well off.  And Danny Williams and his wannabe replacement Jerome Kennedy should remember:  nurses won’t forget.