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“A victory for patients and a victory for public health care but its not good news for public health care workers. That was the way HEU chief negotiator Chris Allnutt summed up a weekend of tense talks with the BC government.

In the end, the HEU managed to make Gordon Campbell blink, agreeing to a cap on the number of health care jobs that could be contracted out. It was far from what the HEU had wanted but much more than many observers thought possible.And in the end, enough to convince the union that the best course of action at this point is to ask its members to stand down from their protest lines and return to work.

Describing the conditions imposed by Bill 37 as obscene, Allnutt outlined the terms of a resolution that removed the retroactive nature of the wage rollbacks, limited to 600 the number of additional positions that could be contracted out, ensured there would be no reprisals, and provided for an additional $25 million in severance payments for those who have been laid off.

Thanking CUPE and the labour movement for their solidarity, Allnutt said the support of other unions was critical in getting limits to privatization. Those limits are good for patients and good for public health care in BC.

At the request of HEU, plans for escalating protests have been suspended.

We have stepped down because we have been asked, said CUPE BC president Barry ONeill, but if Gordon Campbell thinks that days of action are over, hes wrong.

Virtually all CUPE members who arent designated as essential were slated to walk off the job in solidarity with HEU Monday, with more than 64,000 CUPE BC members joining the 40,000 HEU members on the line.

ONeill pledged to keep up that level of mobilization and preparedness, warning the premier that he dare not pick another fight with labour. We dont even need to regroup. Were ready, not only for the next fight, but for the next election, said ONeill.

CUPE National President Paul Moist acknowledged the tremendous leadership and strength of HEU throughout this struggle.

I cant tell you how proud I am of the courage and determination that has been demonstrated by our HEU sisters and brothers in this ordeal, said Moist. Without their leadership and the rock solid support they received from CUPE BC, Campbell would have had free rein to continue his rampant agenda of privatization. Instead we have an outcome that will be hard on our members, but limits the damage to the health care system and positions us to defeat Campbell and win back lost ground with a new government.

The terms of the legislation impose 15 per cent wage cuts, robbing health care workers, more than 80 per cent of them women, of the progress they had made toward pay equity and putting a tremendous strain on their family budgets.

Denouncing the imposition of these rollbacks, Allnutt emphasized that this weekends negotiations could not be described as collective bargaining. Instead it was an effort to blunt the most outrageous elements of Bill 37 and protect public health care. The only thing that was collective about it was the support from our side, said Allnutt.

Despite the anger at the governments tactics and abuse of its powers, there was recognition that there had been a sea change over the course of the HEU strike as the labour movement found its collective voice and the public joined in the chorus.

Our members demonstrated they are willing to put their words into action, said Moist. Their leadership inspired and galvanized a movement to action, gaining tremendous public support. Gordon Campbell and other privatizing premiers had better take note. The public supports CUPEs efforts to defend public services and they recognize that faced with governments that trample our rights, we have every reason to resist.