HEU Show Leadership?
Campbell government has made it perfectly clear that it
is going to pay less for much of the work now done by
members of the Hospital Employees Union. When Bill 29, the
Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act, was
introduced, government issued a background paper that contained
numerous attacks on the union including its often repeated
claim that labour costs are 30% higher than elsewhere in
members of HEU who provide housekeeping, grounds and other
building services need the protection of a union that can
keep their standard of living higher than that of the working
poor. Despite all of the attacks by the Campbell government,
it is not easy to raise a family on $36,000 per year - too
many people know that from first hand experience. It is
sickening that government is willing to break contracts
in order to drive those wages down to $20,000 or $25,000
per year. Nevertheless, that is precisely what is happening,
so the question becomes what
should HEU do?
approach is to seek constant media attention in an effort
to win public support. HEU has embarrassed the government
with several leaked documents that should have been public
information. It is arguable, however, whether any of
their efforts have changed many minds on the fundamental
issue of protecting the incomes and benefits of HEU members.
union also has the option of attempting to overturn government's
decisions in the courts. If government loses a court
challenge, it can retroactively amend any "flawed"
legislation without as much as a pause in its course of
have flourished in British Columbia with all types of governments.
Under the Harcourt government Shaughnessy Hospital was closed.
In the aftermath of that closure, government sought to renegotiate
collective agreements so as to make it easier to facilitate
changing the structure of health care. Collective agreements
were opened and renegotiated resulting in the creation of
the Labour Force Adjustment Agency. Gordon Campbell vigorously
criticized the new agreements, but as Premier he appointed
the person who helped the NDP restructure collective bargaining
in health care to work
for his government to restructure collective bargaining
for social services. Perhaps it is possible to open agreements
and make accommodations rather than going to the most extreme
forms of union busting.
1980s the retail food industry in BC came under enormous
competitive pressures with the introduction of large new
stores. The Retail Clerks agreed to concessions that no
one wanted but were necessary in order for workers in the
industry to survive without being driven down even further.
The same situation faces many workers in health care today.
It is hard for union leaders to tell their membership that
concessions are necessary in order to preserve their jobs,
but when the alternative is to fight to the last drop of
the members' blood, leadership may call for recognizing
the need to accommodate change.
possible that the Campbell government is more interested
in smashing the Hospital Employees Union than it is in making
orderly change within health care. The union has the
ability to put that to the test by offering, as it did with
the Harcourt government, to open agreements and negotiate
changes that would be better for health workers (and patients)
than the low wage, nonunion alternative that appears to
be only months away.
Tricks on Eve of Labour Code Changes
people, whether they are pro or anti-union, may not comprehend
all of the tactics being used by friends of the Campbell
government to break the Hospital Employees Union. Why, for
instance, are agents of potential new laundry and hospital
housekeeping companies interested in signing deals with
answer has to do with freedom of association and the inability
of the Campbell government to simply outlaw unions. If potential
new employers could cut a sweetheart deal with a union that
is a member of the CLC, then other CLC member unions would
be prohibited from organizing and replacing the certified
union. If such a union could be found, the employer could
put a few friends or relatives on the payroll; they would
sign union cards; the union would be certified and sign
a sweetheart deal to keep wages low. The union would collect
dues, but the thousands of new employees that are hired
would have no real advocate. Fortunately, legitimate unions
are more principled and are not going to sell out to the
Campbell government and its friends. Unfortunately, when
the dirty tricks fail, the Campbell government can make
changes to the Labour Code to help break unions as it did
with Bill 29. Those amendments are expected any day now.
his cutback campaign Premier Campbell has gone out of his
way to paint all controversy as a fight between his government
and big unions. When Bill 29 was introduced to break existing
contracts with health unions, government and its employer
associations released information attacking the wage and
benefit levels of HEU members. It is now clear former Opposition
Leader Gordon Campbell lied when he was interviewed by the
HEU newspaper before the election, and as Premier, Campbell's
agenda includes breaking the union.
Campbell government, with its clumsy union busting tactics,
is finding it may be harder than it thought to break the
to the integrity of the BCGEU, taped conversations
were obtained and released to the news media showing efforts
to block HEU members from reapplying for their jobs and
revealing the scheme to keep the HEU from reorganizing the
are people who think that $10 an hour with little or no
benefits is an acceptable wage. There are BC Liberals on
record in Hansard talking about the building trades in such
terms. Kamloops MLA Kevin Kruger had to apologize for revealing
his condescending attitude towards hospital cleaners.
cabinet ministers, who make over $103,000 per year plus
benefits, show little compassion for working people when
they sit back and allow the salary of laundry workers to
be reduced from about $32,000 to under $18,000 per year.
This same attack on living wages applies to dozens of other
health workers (for example, lab technicians, physiotherapists
and security guards).
much of what the Campbell government does, this is all about
reducing living standards at the bottom while looking after
those in the six figure income set. It is a transfer of
income from the bottom to the top. Workers deserve to earn
a wage that keeps them above the poverty line. Without the
support of effective unions that will not happen.
Creating tens of thousands of working poor
came a month late for union bashers, but when it came there
were many boxes under the tree. The Campbell government
is putting out a spin that the three pieces of legislation
it introduced on January 25th remove sweetheart contract
provisions that the NDP snuck in on the eve of their devastation.
A review of the legislation shows that tens of thousands
of workers represented by many unions have lost fundamental
protections some of which have roots going back well before
most radical of all the Campbell changes will effectively
destroy the Hospital
Employees Union. Some union bashers may cheer, but
stop to think. The HEU exists to represent some of the lowest
paid workers in the health care system. Do we help health
care by forcing wages to such a low level that the workers
are living in poverty? Poor people are sick more often,
have more accidents and die sooner. People earning $13 an
hour, $26,000 per year, are poor.
exist for the purpose of balancing economic powers. People
with the qualifications to be Deputy Minister of Intergovernmental
Affairs may be so rare that they can negotiate salaries
of up to $203,500 per year plus rich pension, severance
and other benefits. (OIC
561) People who clean, cook, do laundry, and provide
security do not have the same bargaining power.
without the protection and bargaining power of unions their
wages are driven to a level that no one would envy. Witness
the recent concerns over airport security. One of the first
problems that was identified was that security screeners
hired by contractors were paid close to minimum wage. The
resulting high turnover and lack of incentive was found
to contribute to weaknesses in security. It is not just
the worker who benefits from being lifted out of poverty.
It is also everyone who depends on the service provided
by those workers.
Campbell government has
charged that support services workers in BC's health
system earn wages 30% higher than the rest of Canada. The
Association of BC claims that laundry workers in the
rest of Canada average $12.26 per hour compared to $17.56
in BC. HEABC says cleaners in the rest of Canada average
$12.93 per hour compared to $17.58 in BC, and cooks average
$14.74 in the rest of Canada compared to $19.92 in BC.
Campbell government's "solution" is the Health
and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act and Regulations.
That misnamed legislative attack changes contracts to shorten
severance notice and payout, to restrict bumping provisions
and to encourage contracting out. The legislation prohibits
any collective agreement from containing terms restricting
contracting out - replacing union health employees with
new Health Authorities will now layoff all workers in dietary
departments, housekeeping, security and laundry. The services
will then be provided by contractors who will pay as little
as possible (perhaps even $6 per hour).
people may cheer and say that will make more money available
for health care, or they may simply hate unions. Such folks
ought not to get sick because their basic services in hospital
will soon depend on an unreliable workforce that wants
nothing more than to move on to a better job. They also
might not want to have to pay the social costs of having
tens of thousands of workers reduced to living and working
in poverty. There are over 50,000 people working in health
and social services who will be affected by Premier Campbell's
to the "Service Plan" (page 4) released on Black
Thursday, January 17th, for the Ministry of Health Services
"Changes will involve significant staff reductions
across all regions as a result of the changes in how services
will be provided to create a sustainable health system."
We now know how significant and how the changes will be
made. Government will give the health authorities no choice
as their budgets are inadequate to meet their obligations.
$5 per hour from 50,000 people is a powerful financial incentive
for health employers. There will also be powerful negative
What's wrong with paying a living wage?
Introduced January 25, 2002:
Ministry of Labour website contains two background documents
that contain anecdotal information that attempts to justify
breaking various contract provisions. We will have to wait
for the unions that are involved to tell their side of the
story before we can judge whether or not the stories are
exaggerated and if they are isolated examples or representative
substantial changes stand out including a very dirty
trick related to the earlier delisting of $129.4 million
per year in auxiliary health services.
Minister Graham Bruce tabled draft regulations for Bill
28. Section 6 of that Bill combined with the draft regulations
means that hospitals can contract out to private (non-union)
physiotherapists. By deinsuring private physiotherapists
a few weeks earlier, the government has removed much of
their business (deprived clients of services) and has thereby
created a cheap source of non-union labour.
change for teachers and students is shown by class sizes
for K-12 that are changed according to the following table.
Grades 1 to 3
Grades 4 to 12
Vary by contract
New limits for each
to district wide averages means one grade 12 science
class could have 20 students while another has 40. The
average would be 30 which would satisfy the new requirement
although the students would receive significantly different
educations. It would be virtually impossible to safely run
science labs in the class with 40 thereby requiring more
demonstrations for the entire class and less hands on experience
for the students. District wide averaging will seriously
impair individualized instruction for the higher grades.
to the health and social service contracts reflect a value
that $16.83 per hour is plenty for people who work with
disabled clients. People making $33,000 a year would have
received about $460 a year in tax reductions from the Campbell
government. Now they will lose a 28 per cent negotiated
pay adjustment that was to be applied over the next three
years - a loss of $9,240 a year.
to contracting out provisions will give health and social
service employers the opportunity to drive wages down further
and keep them down as the employer changes contractors (with
no succession rights) if the unorganized do sign union cards.
all about values. In his first weeks in office Premier
Campbell justified a 35% pay increase for deputy ministers,
including the former liberal party president, by saying
BC has to pay enough to attract the best and brightest.
In the New Era it appears that the government concept of
the best and brightest applies to the six figure set. Those
making less than $100,000 per year are receiving third class
treatment as their contracts are broken.