Privatized health workers take strike vote to back first contract talks with giant French corporation

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[Burnaby] The B.C. employees of Paris-based Sodexho — a company that cashed in on the privatization of public health services — will cast strike votes over the next week to back fair wage proposals covering cleaners, dietary workers and other health care support staff.

The focus of talks are the poverty-level wages paid by Sodexho, says the Hospital Employees’ Union, which represents the company’s 1100 employees at hospitals and nursing homes in the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, Victoria and on the Sunshine Coast.

Most Sodexho health support workers earn $10.15 an hour, an unsustainable wage that has led to high staff turnover, crushing workloads and declining service standards, says HEU secretary-business manager Judy Darcy.

“But instead of working towards solutions at the bargaining table, Sodexho continues to put profits for its global shareholders ahead of B.C. patients and workers.”

Darcy adds that Sodexho’s wages are so low that a full-time employee supporting two children falls more than $10,000 below the poverty line established by Statistics Canada.

Many workers are forced to hold down other jobs and the union estimates that between one-third and one-half of Sodexho employees stop working for the company after less than a year.

During talks that began in March, Sodexho proposed a minor increase to the hourly wage of 20 cents a year. At that rate, it would take 25 years for a Sodexho employee charged with cleaning a hospital special care nursery to equal wages paid to unionized hotel cleaners today.

Negotiations cover Sodexho food service workers at Vancouver Coastal Health Authority facilities and cleaning staff at MSA, Eagle Ridge and Mission Memorial hospitals in the Fraser Health Authority as well as a range of support services at German-Canadian, Foyer Maillard and Rosewood care homes in the Lower Mainland and Central Care in Victoria.

Sodexho’s largest contract in B.C. is a massive ten-year food services deal inked with VCHA in 2003 worth $330 million. Sodexho took in more than $17 billion in global revenues last year.

In the two years since Sodexho won major privatization contracts in B.C.’s health care system, the company’s performance has been the centre of a number of critical media stories.

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Contact: Mike Old, communications director, 604-828-6771 (cell) or Margi Blamey, communications officer, 604-456-7094 (direct) or 604-785-5324 (cell)