Health care unions seeking strike mandate

The threat of more contracting out of their jobs has health care unions seeking a strike mandate from 47,000 workers across B.C. as their current collective agreement expires.

An 11-union Facilities Bargaining Association says that talks with the province’s health employers have stalled on a number of issues including the employers’ refusal to extend employment security provisions, a move unions say would open up health care to further privatization and put decent jobs at risk.

The Hospital Employees Union, which represents, among others, the workers who are in limbo as Sunridge seniors care facility in Duncan changes hands, issued a statement Friday, March 28.

“Health employers’ demands for more contracting out will cause uncertainty and instability in our hospitals, care facilities and in the community,” said Bonnie Pearson, the FBA’s chief negotiator and HEU secretary-business manager.

The current provision in the collective agreement that protects services against contracting out expired on March 30.

“It was renegotiated into the agreement in 2012 for the first time since it was removed by legislation 10 years earlier. The Supreme Court of Canada later ruled that law unconstitutional,” Pearson said.

According to HEU communications director Mike Old, negotiations between the FBA and the Health Employers Association of BC (representing most publicly funded health employers) “include a wide range of health care jobs in hospitals, care facilities, emergency health services, logistics and supply warehouses, and other shared services.”

The current collective agreement expired March 31 and the current round of bargaining began on Jan. 14, he said.

HEU represents about 85 per cent of health care workers covered by these talks.

A further 14 per cent are represented by CUPE Local 873, the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 882/882H.

Another seven unions represent less than one per cent of workers in the FBA, and are represented at the bargaining table by the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers Local 5.