Why does government want arbitration? Why is HEU protecting benefits?

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1. Why did the HEU Provincial Executive decide against going to arbitration? In arbitration all benefits would be up for grabs. Members and the union would have no control over which benefits would be sacrificed to achieve a lower wage cut.

Remember the employer’s concession package? They wanted to get at the benefits that are most important to you, and your family — the benefits that tend to increase in cost over time: dental benefits, drug costs, LTD, sick benefits and more.

They also wanted to offload costs onto workers by making you pay between $2000 and $3000 for part of your health and welfare benefits. Over time, those direct, out-of-pocket costs to workers would go up faster than the general inflation rate.

2. But didn’t the union give up a chance to decide how the wage and benefit cuts would be made up?

Bill 37 took away our right to bargain. It did not give the union any power to decide how the wage and benefit cuts would be made. That power was given to the arbitrator whose decisions are final and binding.

The arbitration process is not a collective bargaining process. The union cannot negotiate on behalf of its members. Any proposal put forward in that process by the union to minimize the impact on members would be weighed against the health employers’ demands. (see over: What benefits would health employers target?).

3. Gordon Campbell has publicly said, “If a worker in the HEU would give up one of their nine weeks vacation and decided to go to a 40-hour week, there would be no hit on their paycheque.” Is that true?

No, that’s not true. That decision would not be up to an individual worker or the union. And on top of it, Campbell’s math doesn’t add up. Even if health employers took away a week of vacation on top of the 40-hour work week, it would not equal Bill 37’s compensation cuts. And besides, how many of us have nine weeks vacation?

How Bill 37 arbitration works If HEU had opted for arbitration under Bill 37, the arbitrator — not the union or its members — would distribute a 10 per cent compensation cut among the following items:
  • Wages and overtime
  • Shift, weekend and trades qualification premiums
  • On-call differentials
  • Statutory holidays and vacations
  • Leaves under Article 29 to 36, including sick leave, WCB and injury-on-duty leave
  • Health and welfare benefits including LTD and dental and drug plans
The arbitrator’s decision is final and not subject to appeal.

A four per cent wage cut resulting from an extension to the work week from 36 to 37.5 hours is not subject to arbitration. 4. Why are the premier and labour minister so eager for the union to go to arbitration?

Good question. This government ripped up our contract, privatized health care services, fired thousands of health care workers, imposed a 15 per cent rollback, and now they’re trying to push us into an arbitration.

Why? Because the premier and the labour minister want to get at important benefits that took decades for health care workers to achieve — LTD, sick leave, extended health, dental, pensions and more. They know that once HEU is inside the arbitration process the union will have no control over the benefits that will be taken away or reduced. They also know that benefit costs and reductions are very difficult to get back. Increasing wages, over time, is more achievable than restoring lost or reduced benefits.

5. Doesn’t Bill 37 give union members a choice?

Bill 37 is about taking away choices: your right to negotiate a collective agreement; your right to vote on the terms and conditions of your contract. The only “choice” in Bill 37 is whether to take a wage cut, or go to arbitration. And that’s no choice at all because neither you, nor the union, have any control over the outcome of that process. Once we’re in arbitration all your benefits are up for grabs.

6. If we don't go to arbitration, how can we address issues like retention and recruitment, health and safety and other issues?

Section 3(4) of Bill 37 provides for other changes to the imposed contract outside the arbitration process if health unions and employers are in agreement. The union has already asked health employers to address recruitment and retention issues for high demand occupations under this provision, as well as renewed funding for the Occupational Health and Safety Agency for Health Care and an extension of the monthly supplementary benefit for pre-1998 LTD claimants.

What benefits would health employers target? Gordon Campbell would have you believe that individual workers could choose what benefits to give up to pay for the cuts his government has imposed on you. And the labour minister says that arbitration is a better option for you.

But why are government and health employers so keen on arbitration? Here are some of the benefit concessions that health employers had on the bargaining table when the Campbell Liberals imposed Bill 37.
  • workers to pay $2,000 to $3,000 annually for medical and dental benefits
  • increased benefit deductibles
  • sick leave accumulation cut by a third
  • sick leave pay cut by 25 per cent
  • An end to the forty per cent cash out of sick leave credits on retirement or severance
  • pay and benefit cuts to workers injured on the job
  • LTD claimants to pay 100 per cent of their MSP and extended health premiums
  • premium coverage slashed in half for part-time workers who’d pay 50 per cent of MSP, dental and extended health benefits (full-time workers would pay 25 per cent)

    In an arbitration, neither union members nor the union can determine the outcome. But you can be sure that health employers and government would be working hard to attack the benefits that you and your family depend on. HEU won’t roll the dice on a benefit package that took decades to build.