12/08/2014 02:39 EST | Updated 02/07/2015 05:59 EST

Nova Scotia health unions to argue against law that cuts bargaining units

HALIFAX - Union lawyers in Nova Scotia will argue this week before an arbitration hearing that begins Tuesday that a provincial law that shrinks the number of bargaining units for health workers breaches the Constitution.

The Health Authorities Act introduced by the Liberal government earlier this year will merge the number of health districts from 10 to two by April 1.

The legislation also created an arbitration process to reduce the number of bargaining units in the province from 50 to four — with distinct unions for nurses, health-care workers, clerical staff and support staff.

Arbitrator James Dorsey has already ruled in a preliminary decision that he may balance constitutional arguments against some provisions of the legislation.

Danny Cavanagh, the president of Local 734 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, says his union will argue that the law violates the constitutional right to freedom of association and expression.

Cavanagh says his union will ask Dorsey to create an association where each of the four unions involved retain their existing members but join together for bargaining.

Lana Payne, regional director of Unifor, says her union's lawyers will take a similar approach.

Joan Jessome, the president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, says her union's lawyers will argue that its members should be allowed to vote on which union they belong to.

Janet Hazelton, the president of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union, was unavailable for comment.

Dorsey is expected to deliver a decision by Jan. 1.