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Health care unions representing 43,000 hospital and long-term care workers in contract talks with the Health Employers Association of B.C. will ask their members for a strike mandate in votes that will be completed by month’s end.

The move comes after health employers refused to remove a massive concessions package from the bargaining table and continued to issue pink slips to health care workers.

“Health employers have gone too far,” says Hospital Employees’ Union secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt, who speaks for the multi-union bargaining association. “They are mistaken if they think they can bully workers into a lop-sided contract by continuing to fire workers and slash health services.

“It’s never been more important for health care workers and their employers to produce workable solutions to the problems now facing health care,” adds Allnutt. “That’s why we are ready to return to the bargaining table at a moment’s notice if health employers are prepared to table a more reasonable set of bargaining demands in a climate free of intimidation.

Since bargaining began on January 9, health employers have issued 2,500 pink slips - including 1,000 on Vancouver Island just two weeks ago.

Allnutt noted on the eve of International Women’s Day that the B.C. Liberal government and health employers have fired more than 6,000 health care workers - 90 per cent of them women - and that concessions sought by HEABC would hurt women workers and their families.

“These women are worth every penny they earn,” says Allnutt. “And while health employers and this government may not value their work - patients, residents and the public do.”

Contract talks began January 9 and the current collective agreement expires March 31. In January, 2002 the provincial government passed a law that broke the contract to make way for service cuts, facility closures and privatization resulting in the layoff of thousands of workers.

HEU represents about 40,000 workers affected by the contract talks. Ten other unions in the bargaining association including the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union and the International Union of Operating Engineers represent the remaining 3,000 workers.