Why is IWA Local 3567 attacking health care workers?

News release


This document provides background and outlines the course of recent moves by IWA Local 3567 that amount to an outright assault on health care workers and their unions. At the centre of the controversy are two applications by this IWA local to represent health care support workers in two privatization contracts won by the British multinational, the Compass Group, at two B.C. health care facilities. The company won both contracts to perform work formerly done by HEU members who were fired using the Campbell government’s contract-breaking legislation, Bill 29.

The facts at the heart of this story paint a troubling picture about the relationship between IWA Local 3567 and Compass — the world’s largest purveyor of privatized health care services. The IWA local’s move:

  • hurts thousands of women health care workers because it rolls back decades of progress to improve wages and working conditions, and implement equity;
  • lowers contract standards to such a degree that thousands more workers in the public and private sectors will be exposed to harsh concession demands from other employers;
  • weakens the fight against the Campbell government’s reckless health care agenda of closures, cuts and privatization because it sends a message that the labour movement is divided; and
  • will embolden B.C. forest companies to intensify their demands for major rollbacks in key negotiations for other big IWA locals later this year.

Through its national union, CUPE, HEU has laid a complaint with the Canadian Labour Congress that IWA Local 3567 has violated the organizing protocol in the CLC constitution. HEU and CUPE National are also demanding that IWA Local 3567 withdraw the certification applications and abide by the B.C. Federation of Labour’s organizing protocol.

Here are the facts:

1. Prior to the 2001 provincial election, Gordon Campbell promised that he would respect signed collective agreements, and that health care workers didn’t have to worry about privatization from a Liberal government.

2. In the early hours of the morning on Jan. 28, 2002, the Campbell government passed Bill 29, the Health and Social Service Delivery Improvement Act. The bill — which the Globe and Mail called “legislative vandalism” — stripped key contract provisions for 100,000 health care workers. Protections against contracting out and privatization, job security, successorship rights, and even bumping and posting provisions were all eliminated to pave the way for the Liberals to close facilities, and cut and privatize health care services.

3. Along with other unions and community groups, HEU has worked actively to oppose the Campbell government’s reckless health care agenda of cuts, closures and privatization — especially in rural communities that will be hardest hit. An aggressive fight back campaign has succeeded in turning public opinion against the Liberal’s health care agenda — including the privatization of support services — as well as delaying or overturning facility closures and service cuts. HEU has also reached out to support the struggles of other unions and organizations in the broader fight against the Campbell government.

4. In April 2003, a Charter of Rights and Freedoms suit launched by HEU and our partner health unions against Bill 29 gets underway in B.C. Supreme Court. The unions are seeking a judgment that Campbell’s contract-breaking law is unconstitutional and should be struck down.

5. Together with the BC Fed and BCGEU, HEU made public in May 2002 shocking evidence of the ruthless way private contractors — a handful of foreign multinationals — planned on using Bill 29. HEU members would be fired and blackballed by companies awarded privatization contracts. The companies would then seek out other unions to sign voluntary recognition deals with substandard wage rates up to 50 per cent less than HEU members currently earn. And a corporate solidarity pact meant that companies would simply walk out on collective agreements if they became “too expensive,” or unions too uppity.

6. Against this backdrop of employer provocation, HEU worked with the B.C. Federation of Labour and affiliates to seek agreement among unions on an organizing protocol within the province to keep the boss from dividing us.

7. Since April 2002, HEU has received calls from affiliate unions advising that contractors are approaching them offering voluntary recognition agreements. All of these unions have rejected the “offer.” HEU has received calls from: BCGEU, UFCW Local 1518, Hotel and Restaurant Employees’ Local 40, United Steelworkers, CAW, SEIU and RWU.

8. At the June 2002 CLC convention in Vancouver, delegates unanimously adopted a high profile resolution to maintain labour solidarity by condemning voluntary recognition agreements that multinational companies were aggressively seeking with unions to cash in on the Campbell government’s privatization bonanza.

9. Meanwhile, health care employers and multinational corporations were moving to use the draconian provisions of Bill 29. During the summer of 2002, 45 HEU members who provided housekeeping, dietary and laundry services at Renfrew Care Centre — a long-term care facility in East Vancouver — were fired. These workers applied for their old jobs, but not one was hired. Instead their work was contracted out to the British multinational Compass Group in September 2002. Compass replaced these 45 HEU members with 25 new staff.

10. An HEU organizing campaign at Renfrew revealed that Compass workers were taken offsite by the company to another facility and introduced by Compass management to IWA business agents who wanted them to join the IWA.

11. Soon after, HEU signed up the new Renfrew employees. In mid-September the workers voted unanimously to join HEU and the LRB granted HEU a certification for Compass. Bargaining for a new agreement began November 6 and is ongoing.

12. Dec. 9, 2002 Compass began a small housekeeping privatization contract at Vancouver General Hospital, performing work formerly done by HEU members who were fired using Bill 29. A small group of Compass employees start work and HEU organizers are onsite.

13. Because HEU already has a certification with Compass, on Dec. 10, 2002 we received notification from the LRB that IWA Local 3567 had applied for certification for the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority with Compass. HEU, BCGEU and UFCW Local 1518 attended the LRB certification hearing Dec. 17, 2002 to seek standing to oppose the application for certification. The scope of the IWA application is alarming. The forest union is seeking to win the right to represent housekeepers and all health care workers performing all non-clinical duties at dozens of hospitals in the Lower Mainland.

14. During the Dec. 17 LRB proceedings, IWA 3567 and Compass acknowledged they had negotiated a voluntary recognition agreement, and that a collective agreement was in place and signed off Dec. 6, 2002 before Compass began the VGH contract. The LRB ordered the IWA to provide a copy of their collective agreement to the other unions. (The board also ordered written submissions from the parties to be concluded on or before Jan. 26, 2003 on the issue of standing and the IWA application for certification.)

15. The Compass/IWA agreement is a substandard contract that rolls back more than 50 years of progress to improve wages and working conditions for mostly women health care workers. The five-year deal provides for:

  • wage rates starting at $9.50/hour for dietary, laundry and housekeeping positions, increasing to $11.21 at the end of the deal, compared to current rates negotiated by HEU ranging from $17.50 to $18.30 per hour;
  • only basic employment standards provisions for issues like vacation (two weeks);
  • no pension plan, and only four sick days a year;
  • no guaranteed hours of work, and no posting process; and
  • a bizarre clause that allows Compass to roll back wage rates while the contract is in force to reflect `market conditions.

16. Dec. 17, 2002, Sue Fisher, HEU’s director of organizing, phoned Brian Lund, director of organizing for IWA 3567, to ask for a meeting to discuss the certification and collective agreement. But the IWA declines to meet, because Lund says, “the lawyers can handle this.”

17. Since Dec. 9 when the Compass contract at VGH began, HEU organizers have learned that when workers were called by Compass to come to the company’s corporate headquarters for an orientation meeting, two IWA representatives were present. Most workers have not seen a collective agreement, and do not know that one exists.

18. At the Beacon Hill Villa long-term care facility in Victoria, the employer also used Bill 29 to fire HEU members and contract out work to Compass.

19. Over the Christmas/New Years holidays, HEU worked to resolve the raid within the House of Labour through the CLC and the B.C. Federation of Labour. IWA Local 3567 responded provocatively by applying for a second certification at Beacon Hill Villa on Jan. 7, 2003. Based on the circumstances outlined above, HEU will oppose the bid.

20. Through our national union, CUPE, HEU has initiated charges against the IWA under the CLC’s organizing protocol.

21. Jan. 3, 2003, the Health Sciences Association and the B.C. Nurses’ Union filed formal applications for standing with the LRB to oppose the IWA VGH application.