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Tough sanctions being sought against rogue IWA local that signed the deal

The Hospital Employees’ Union (CUPE) is stepping up its efforts at the Labour Relations Board to challenge a cozy deal between a giant private health care multinational and a rogue local of the International Woodworkers of America that blasts wages and working conditions for women health care workers back to the 1960s and the days of W.A.C. Bennett.

HEU today filed unfair labour practice charges against Compass Group Ltd. and the IWA Local 3567 amid compelling evidence that the IWA local is acting as an employer-dominated union. HEU is demanding the LRB overturn the cut-rate contract and rule that a series of other questionable arrangements between the union and the company are illegal.

The controversial deal cuts wages almost in half to $9.50 per hour for housekeeping, laundry and food service workers for a health care privatization contract at Vancouver General Hospital. It also eliminates almost all benefits and basic workplace protections, and creates mechanisms so that current HEU members do not have an opportunity to continue working if their jobs are privatized.

Although the concessions deal applies to only a small number of workers now, the IWA local is relying on the provisions of Bill 29-the Campbell government’s contract breaking legislation-to extend the deal so that it automatically applies across the entire Vancouver Coastal Health Authority for all health employees except RNs providing direct inpatient care if Compass wins other lucrative privatization contracts.

“This raw deal lays bare the real agenda behind the Campbell Liberals’ contract breaking vandalism,” says HEU spokesperson Chris Allnutt. “This so-called contract rolls real wage rates back 35 years when ’maids’ at Vancouver Hospital were paid $1.86 an hour. It decimates the progress we’ve made in areas like pay equity for women and improved working conditions for those who deliver critical health care support services on the front lines.”

Allnutt warns that patients could also end up on the losing end from the deal. “Low wages and poor working conditions lead to high staff turnover and less experienced workers providing critical health care support, which will have a direct impact on the quality of care provided in hospitals,” he says. Meanwhile, Allnutt says HEU is also pressing through its national union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, to have the Canadian Labour Congress impose tough sanctions to deal with the IWA local. “Ultimately,” says Allnutt, “it could result in the entire IWA, not just the local, being tossed out of Canada’s House of Labour.

“We appreciate the role that CLC president Ken Georgetti has played during the past several weeks in trying to negotiate a resolution within the labour movement,” says Allnutt. “But his good faith efforts and ours were hampered by recent provocative moves by the IWA local in which it expanded its troubling relationship with Compass by seeking yet another certification for contracted out services in long-term care. Now, we have no choice but to go to the next step in the CLC process and push for full sanctions.

“There’s no doubt this could be a real setback for the labour movement in our province and across Canada,” says Allnutt. “If the Compass/IWA arrangement is allowed to stand it will have repercussions for all unionized workers in B.C. because it will embolden employers to push even more aggressively for concessions.

“The concessionary deal also threatens standards for thousands of IWA forest sector members who face a difficult set of contract talks later this year,” Allnutt also points out. “It won’t be lost on the lumber bosses that an IWA local has agreed to a deal that cuts wages in half.”

The VCHA says its contract with Compass-which is based on these low wage rates-is a model it will follow in future privatization initiatives.

A series of early December actions are at the centre of the troubling relationship between Compass and IWA Local 3567. Days before Compass had even started cleaning so-called “non patient care areas” at VGH, it had inked a deal in which IWA Local 3567 was given the nod by the multinational to represent workers that had yet to work one day. Just as fast, the company and the union agreed to the cozy deal that decimated wages and working conditions without any workers

being involved in the negotiations.

HEU and other unions are also pressing the labour board to have the IWA local’s bid to be the legal trade union representative for Compass workers at VGH turned back.

The British-owned multinational Compass is the world’s largest private health care services corporation that is aggressively seeking to cash in on the Campbell government’s privatization sweepstakes. Compass made the news last year when it lost a cleaning contract in a Scottish hospital after a public outcry over poor cleaning standards and low wages paid to housekeeping staff.

Additional background documents-including a copy of the IWA/Compass concession deal, a summary of how it stacks up against contract standards, and HEU’s LRB filings-can be downloaded from the electronic version of this release at heu.org.