HEU executive recommends ratification of Community Health tentative agreement

Bargaining bulletin

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After careful review, HEU’s Provincial Executive is recommending members vote in favour of the tentative agreement reached between the Community Health Bargaining Association (CBA) and the Health Employers Association of BC (HEABC).

“There’s no doubt this is a challenging bargaining climate, and the bargaining committee was faced with tough choices as they brought members’ priorities and concerns to the table,” says HEU secretary-business manager Judy Darcy.

“At the same time, the committee was able to achieve improvements, while protecting wages and stability in the sector.”

Some of the key improvements include:

  • a new BlueNet direct pay drug card;
  • increased vision care benefits from $225 to $350 every 24 months;
  • wage adjustments and benchmark changes for LPNs, LPN supervisors, and certified dental assistants, as roles and scope of practice have expanded;
  • a new joint committee to address long-standing scheduling issues;
  • shift premiums of $0.25 per hour for weekend work between midnight on Friday and midnight on Sunday;
  • job security provisions that extend contracting-out protections from the previous contract’s Memorandum of Understanding, and
  • a new Short-Term Injury and Illness Plan (STIIP) working group to address the gap in coverage between sick leave banks and long-term disability plans.

The tentative agreement is effective from April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2012. It covers approximately 14,000 workers, including 1,400 HEU members.

The bargaining committee was negotiating in the context of a government freeze on public-sector compensation. Therefore, any improvements in the contract that have cost implications had to be achieved through adjustments elsewhere in the agreement.

These changes occurred in three main areas: extended health deductibles, massage therapy benefits and long-term disability. Details are listed in the attached report.

Members will be notified as soon as ratification votes are scheduled.

For more information, please contact HEU representative, Joey Hartman at 604-456-7043 or 1-800-663-5813 ext. 7043.

The following provides more detail on the tentative agreement. The printer friendly version at the top of this page includes an Appendix, with details on the changes to articles and language.

New direct pay drug card
Effective April 1, 2010 members will be issued a BlueNet (direct pay) drug card. This means members will no longer have to save receipts, file a claim and wait for reimbursement of prescription drug costs.

With this card, when members purchase prescription drugs at most local drug stores, their expenditures are automatically reported to Pacific Blue Cross. Members will pay only 20% of the cost of their purchase once their expenses exceed the annual $100 deductible. Shifting to the BlueNet Card was identified as one of the highest priorities in bargaining.

Weekend shift premium
In the lead up to bargaining, members spoke about the importance of receiving recognition for the weekend work required in this sector. Effective April 2, 2010, members in the community health sector will receive an additional $0.25 for every hour of their shift from midnight on Friday up to and including midnight on Sunday.

This premium is less than the committee’s original proposal to the employer, but does build on the gains made during the last round of bargaining, when shifts were defined, for the first time, in the collective agreement.

Improvements in vision care
Members who purchase eyeglasses will be entitled to increased vision care reimbursement, up from $225 to $350 every 24 months. This improvement was also named as a high priority in this round of bargaining.

New compassionate care leave with benefits
Members will now be entitled to an eight-week leave of absence to care for a seriously ill family member. In addition to any compensation from Employment Insurance, regular employees will continue to receive medical and dental benefits for the duration of their leave.

Joint committee on home support scheduling
Despite changes in the last round of bargaining, members continue to experience difficulties with scheduling, and had identified the issue as a priority in this round of bargaining.

This tentative agreement establishes a joint union-management working group that will begin work immediately to gather information and make recommendations by June 30, 2010 on the 10-hour window. Additional details on the working group can be found in the Appendix under Memorandum of Agreement - Scheduling Joint Working Group.

Employment security provisions
Members identified job security as a key priority in this round of bargaining. Two Memoranda of Agreement, the Employment Opportunities MOA #22 and the Consequences of Contracting Out/Re-tendering by Health Authorities MOA #23 were added to the collective agreement in the last round of bargaining.

They provided more stability, enhanced severance and employment opportunities for displaced workers, including dovetailed seniority rights. These MOAs were set to expire on March 30, 2010. Both MOAs were renewed and the rights gained in the last round will continue for the term of this agreement.

In addition, MOA #23 has reduced from 700 to 500 the number of layoffs that are needed to trigger enhanced severance pay. This creates a financial disincentive for employers to contract out jobs and encourages them to limit any contracting out to 500 positions.

Wage grid adjustments, benchmark updates for LPNs, LPN Supervisors and CDAs
The wage grid and benchmarks for LPNs, LPN supervisors and CDAs have been updated to recognize expansion in scope of practice, and changes in duties and responsibilities.

A new Step 5 has been created in the wage grid, which is three per cent higher than Step 4. In the first pay period of the new collective agreement, all LPNs currently at Step 4, will move to the new Step 5. At the same time, Step 1 on the LPN wage grid will be removed and all new hires will start at the Step 2 rate.

In April 2011, a new Step 6 will be added, with a three per cent increase, and Step 2 will be eliminated.

A new benchmark has been established for the LPN Supervisors, which will mean a 3% wage increase on April 2, 2010 and a 3% increase starting in the first pay period of April 2011.

Certified Dental Assistants will receive a 3% wage increase starting on the first pay period in April 2010, and again in April 2011.

Enhanced Disability Management/Short-Term Illness and Injury Plan joint working group
Both parties are committed to developing a comprehensive, seamless, cost-effective system of providing short and long-term disability coverage and effective disability management.

Under the current plan, many sick or injured workers exhaust their sick leave banks before they are eligible for long-term disability benefits. The working group will review both the current disability management process, as well as options for a Short-Term Illness and Injury Plan (STIIP).

The working group will make recommendations to CBA and HEABC by September 30, 2010, unless a different date is agreed upon by both parties.

Bargaining context

Like all public-sector workers, the community health bargaining committee was negotiating in a government-mandated “net zero” context. In order to fund priority improvements in the contract, changes were made in three areas – the extended health deductible, massage therapy benefits, and long-term disability.

Extended health deductible
Effective April 1, 2010, the annual deductible for extended health benefits will be $100. The current deductible of $25 has been in place since the beginning of the plan.

Massage therapy benefits
Effective April 1, 2010, the maximum massage therapy benefit will be $1,000 per year. Currently, there is no maximum.

Long-term disability – pre-existing conditions
The entitlement to long-term disability (LTD) benefits has been modified for new workers hired after April 1, 2010.

If a worker is treated for a medical condition in the 90 days before they are hired, and if because of that same condition they are absent from work within 12 months of being hired, they are not eligible for LTD benefits. However, if a worker is employed for any 12 consecutive months without being absent for that same condition, they re-qualify for LTD benefits.

Long-term disability – term of benefits
The term of benefits for long-term disability has been modified for new workers hired after April 1, 2010. A claimant can return to their own job after being on a claim for 19 months (reduced from 24 months.) Other conditions in LTD benefits remain the same as in the previous agreement.

Additional provisions

New benefits joint working group
Unions in the community health sector will be meeting with the employer to review health and welfare benefits plans and to identify areas where benefits can be improved and the growth in costs can be reduced. The committee will deliver a report by September 30, 2010.

Health benefit trust
The provision requiring that Healthcare Benefit Trust be the designated benefits carrier has been modified to allow for a different, mutually agreeable carrier. This will allow the benefits joint working group to consider other carriers that may provide the same or better benefits package at a lower cost.

New community health joint committee
A new Community Health Joint Committee has been established to address problems that arise during the term of the collective agreement. The committee includes representatives from both the Community Bargaining Association and the Health Employers Association of BC. The committee will meet four times per year. The committee has agreed to begin by addressing the issue of developing a common method for calculating seniority.

Three new names have been added to the list of agreed upon arbitrators. There is also a new provision intended to reduce the time needed to advance grievances to arbitration.

All relevant memoranda of agreement renewed
With the exception of the Memoranda of Agreement that are no longer applicable, all MOAs have been renewed. This includes the MOA concerning superior benefits for members who were devolved from the public service. A detailed list of these Memoranda is available in the Appendix.

Consequential amendments as a result of Bill 29
Memoranda of Agreement negotiated as a result of the Supreme Court ruling on Bill 29 have now been incorporated into the collective agreement. See Appendix for more details.

Wage reopener
The CBA was the first to settle a tentative agreement in the current context of a government-mandated freeze on wage increases. If the government changes their mandate before the end of the term of this agreement, then it may be re-opened to renegotiate total compensation for the balance of the term.

Term of the agreement
The term of the tentative agreement is for two years from April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2012.