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In late June, B.C. health care workers employed by French corporation Sodexho voted 96 per cent in favour of striking as they fight for a first contract.

The negotiations covering 1,100 privatized health support workers at hospitals and nursing began March 11. The workers are members of the Hospital Employees’ Union (HEU), CUPE’s B.C. health services division.

Right now, a job with Sodexho in a B.C. hospital is a passport to poverty,” says HEU secretary-business manager Judy Darcy. Nearly 90 per cent of the company’s employees earn just $10.15 an hour. Wage rates have dropped dramatically since key health support services were privatized.

Last year, Sodexho’s Paris-based top executive Michel Landel received a 16 per cent hike to his salary and benefits package now worth $1.4 million a year. But Sodexho is telling local workers that an annual increase of 20 cents an hour is good enough. At that rate, it will take workers 25 years to reach hourly wage levels paid to many unionized hotel staff in B.C.

The workers perform highly skilled jobs disinfecting operating rooms and special care nurseries and meeting the special dietary needs of sick patients and frail seniors.

Low wages force many to hold down other jobs and HEU estimates that between one-third and one-half of Sodexho employees stop working for the company after less than a year.

Visit www.heu.org to follow this story.