15/03/01

News release
Angered by employer demands for rollbacks and a lack of a monetary offer for community caregivers, unions representing 60,000 health care workers in communities across B.C. are urging their members to vote yes in strike votes set to kickoff on March 8, International Women’s Day.

After eight intense weeks of bargaining with the Health Employers Association of B.C., the unions say they have tabled a range of practical solutions to the problems facing the health care system.

“Our members are on Medicare’s front lines during some particularly challenging times,” says Chris Allnutt, secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees’ Union representing 45,000 HEU members. “We want to bargain solutions that will make our health care system better. Clearly the public wants solutions. So does Premier Dosanjh.

“But health employers can only respond with a full menu of concession demands like vacation cuts and reduced benefits for injured workers,” he said. “Calling this strike vote should send a clear message to employers that they need to focus more on achieving solutions at the bargaining table.”

Ending wage discrimination against community health care workers is one of the unions’ top priorities, says Daryl Barnett of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union representing 10,000 members at the table.

“In many cases, community-based health care workers earn about $3.50 an hour less than their hospital or long-term care counterparts,” says Barnett. “This discrimination must end. We must have agreement on the principle of parity and pay equity.”

Brooke Sundin, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1518 representing 3,500 members in these talks, says the principle of seniority is also important to community health workers.

“Any change in the current seniority provisions contained in the collective agreement will seriously erode the benefits and working conditions of these workers.”

With 11 bargaining dates set for the rest of the month, the unions are keen to keep talks going. “We’re prepared to bargain 24-hours a day’” says Allnutt, “to achieve a fair settlement that improves conditions for our members and improves the quality of care for British Columbians.”

Allnutt notes that both sides agree that achieving a new settlement before the March 31st expiry of the current agreement is important. Results from the strike vote will be announced March 19.

In addition to parity for community caregivers, the main proposals the unions have on the table are:

  • measures to reduce the skyrocketing on-the-job injury rate;
  • higher staffing in long-term care;
  • a key initiative on training to address the looming skills shortages in B.C.’s health care system; and
  • a fair wage increase.

For more information, please contact: Mike Old, HEU communications officer at 604-734-3431 or 604-828-6771 (cell) Brian Gardiner, BCGEU communications officer at 604-291-9611 Tom Fawkes, UFCW Local 1518 communications director at 604-434-3101