Danny Cavanagh used to be head of the provincial branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Now, he’s the president of the much larger Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, the umbrella group for affiliated unions.
Why did you decide to run for president?
I tend to like to be more of a progressive kind of person that can offer some solutions to some of the problems [trade unionists] face. So, right now, I think we need to have somebody that’s willing to take on government, but take on government in some progressive ways that are different, and make sure that we continue to move the agenda for workers forward in this province.
The labour-management balance appears to have tipped to the employer’s side. Recent public-sector tentative agreements have left a bad taste in many union members’ mouths. What do you have to say?
I’m not so sure how correct that is. Each and every union is entitled to do what they believe to be best at the bargaining table. The federation isn’t directly involved in those kind of bargaining aspects, and we need to respect and understand that those unions are driven by what bargaining committees have been directed to do. At the end of the day, in every case, it’s the membership that actually decides on the acceptance of those agreements.
Does the federation have a game plan to help improve worker safety in Nova Scotia?
One of the things I said when I took on the job is we need to have sort of a strategic plan. And any polling I’ve seen that we’ve done amongst unions themselves, health and safety is generally the highest thing on the radar screen.
On your organization’s executive council, why is it necessary to have a vice-president specifically representing workers of colour and aboriginal people?
We need to have representation at the table where they can raise issues or concerns. My philosophy is that we need to do more work to make sure that we’re raising those issues. We need to make sure that we’re representing the face of the whole trade union movement.
You’re also dedicated to improving literacy in Nova Scotia. Where did that concern come from?
A number of years ago, I got involved with literacy through my own workplace. We started a workplace-education program. Because of that work, I was appointed as an ambassador for workplace education by former premier John Savage. A couple of years ago, I accepted a position on the board of Literacy Nova Scotia, and today I sit as the chair of the board. The important aspect with all this work is to make sure we’re offering programs for anyone in society who may have fallen through the cracks, so to speak.
Interview conducted and edited by Michael Lightstone