Health care bargaining entering critical phase, say unions

News release

After seven weeks at the bargaining table, unions representing 60,000 front-line health care workers in hospitals, long-term care homes, health authorities and community agencies say negotiations with health employers must pick up steam in order to reach a settlement before contracts expire March 31.

And the unions say the Health Employers’ Association of B.C. must move away from their concession demands and embrace a bargaining agenda that strengthens health care delivery.

“Old-style bargaining won’t wash with the public,” says Chris Allnutt, Hospital Employees’ Union secretary-business manager. “British Columbians expect us to deliver a collective agreement that improves health care. One way to do that is to ensure adequate and safe staffing levels in long-term care and community health services.

“But health employers have rejected our proposals for minimum staffing levels. Their solutions — like cutting vacation and stealing benefits from injured workers — are no solutions at all.”

“A key issue on the table is reaching agreement on the principle of parity for approximately 15,000 community health care workers who earn around $3 an hour less than their counterparts doing the same work in hospitals and long-term care homes,” says B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union president George Heyman. “It’s just not fair to expect workers doing the same work to accept less pay.”

Brooke Sundin, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1518, says it’s important to build momentum in next week’s talks. “HEABC’s concession demands remain the biggest obstacle to reaching an agreement by March 31,” says Sundin.

Bargaining for health services and support workers resume next week when health employers are expected to table a compensation package. The unions are looking for a dollar an hour increase in the first year, five per cent in the second along with a cost of living clause and improvements to the benefit package.

There are more than a dozen unions in the union bargaining association whose members work as community and facility care aides, LPNs, housekeepers, food service workers, nursing unit clerks, trades and maintenance staff, lab assistants, activity aides, records clerks and in many other health care jobs.