Poverty-level wages key issue as health support workers begin job action against French corporation

News release

HEU secretary-business manager Judy Darcy available to media at 12:10 p.m. outside UBC Hospital

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More than 1,100 health care support staff working at a number of BC health facilities will put their strike notice into effect at 11:45 a.m. today with a series of study sessions and limited job actions that target the French company, Sodexho.

The Hospital Employees’ Union says wages are the main issue in the dispute. Sodexho pays 90 per cent of its workers just $10.15 an hour to provide critical health services such as meeting the special dietary needs of frail seniors and patients and cleaning special care nurseries and operating rooms.

Those wages rank among the lowest for hospital support work in Canada and are lower than those paid by their competitors Aramark and Compass Group, which also provide contract support services to BC’s health authorities.

“Staff turnover is approaching 50 per cent annually because these women and men cannot support their families on $10.15 an hour,” says HEU secretary-business manager Judy Darcy.

“Sodexho’s greed is hurting health care,” says Darcy. “This company needs to take its responsibilities to BC taxpayers, patients and its own workers more seriously.”

Darcy says that while HEU has not heard from the company since strike notice was served on Monday, the union is prepared to return to the bargaining table if Sodexho is willing to table a reasonable wage proposal.

There will be no picket lines set up today, but the union says its members will rotate and escalate its job action over the next few days.

Two-hour study sessions will be held today beginning at 11:45 a.m. at UBC, Mission Memorial, Eagle Ridge and MSA hospitals and limited job action will take place at German-Canadian, Foyer Maillard and Rosewood care homes in the Lower Mainland and at Central Care in Victoria.

Sodexho’s largest contract in BC is a massive ten-year food services deal inked with VCHA in 2003 worth $330 million. The company’s five-year cleaning contract with the Fraser Health Authority is worth more than $70 million.

Sodexho took in more than $17 billion in global revenues last year. And its Paris-based CEO, Michel Landel, pocketed $1.4 million in salary and benefits.

In the two years since Sodexho won major privatization contracts in BC’s health care system, the company’s performance has been the centre of a number of critical media stories. In a recent cleaning audit, the company failed to achieve a passing grade at half of the hospitals it cleans for the Fraser Health Authority.