Union representing B.C. LifeLabs workers called back to bargaining table on first day of job action
As more than 1,500 members who work for LifeLabs in B.C. began job action Saturday, their union said the company had unexpectedly asked them to resume negotiations.
“We think that’s a positive sign, we’re cautiously optimistic,” said Paul Finch, the treasurer of the B.C. General Employees’ Union (BCGEU).
Nearly a hundred workers rallied outside the company’s B.C. headquarters in Burnaby Saturday afternoon, shouting, waving flags, and carrying signs calling for “fair wages” with messages that included: “If healthcare heroes are outside, something is wrong inside.”
LifeLabs and the union have been negotiating since April, according to the company.
According to Finch, discussions broke down in the middle of the week, when agreements couldn’t be reached on two key issues.
“One is a fair wage,” Finch said. “Fair compensation for the work. And the other is a pension plan that affords collective security.”
As of Saturday, workers at 94 LifeLabs locations in the province will be rejecting overtime, and working-to-rule.
According to the union that means they will be “performing their jobs precisely as outlined in their job descriptions and their last collective agreement.”
Mandy De Fields, the BCGEU’s bargaining unit chairperson said the return to negotiations, expected Saturday evening, showed that the “pressure is working.”
“We’re doing what we need to (do to) keep up and keep applying that pressure until we get that fair deal,” she said.
Among their concerns, Finch explained, are that public sector workers who work in hospitals are paid between 4.5 and 13.5 per cent more for performing the same duties as their LifeLabs counterparts.
“It’s an issue to the point where LifeLabs has had to temporarily close some of their facilities throughout the pandemic, because of (a) recruitment and retention issue,” Finch said.
If negotiations remain at an impasse, Finch said, job action could escalate to rotating strikes as soon as Monday.
In a statement on Saturday, LifeLabs said that all of its locations remain open according to their regular schedules.
“LifeLabs is hopeful that we can reach an agreement with the BCGEU in this current round of negotiations and avoid closure of any patient service centres,” the statement read.
It added it was committed “to taking all steps possible to minimize disruption to patients and health care providers.”
The company has previously said that while it has been designated an essential service, if strikes happen, some locations could be closed, and patients with appointments that are impacted will be contacted directly.
While the move could potentially impact wait times across the province for patients of the largest diagnostic lab company in the country, a few dozen locations where workers are not unionized, would be unaffected.
LifeLabs is asking patients to monitor its website for up-to-date information on any changes to its opening hours.
The union said it also plans to post a list of strike locations on its website.