Despite recent attempts by the Employer to defend its concessionary bargaining package, CUPE 1816 members who work for the benefits provider Pacific Blue Cross (PBC) are stronger than ever in their fight to defend their retiree benefits, says Local president Beth Miller.
Since May 13, when CUPE 1816 began legal strike action, there has been no picketing of the PBC building on Canada Way and Gilmore. Instead, the Local has held rotating job actions in which different employee groups have withdrawn their labour on a regular basis. Members have also held study sessions and leafleted various PBC events. The Employer, meanwhile, has engaged in lockout activity by refusing to pay its contribution to MSP, extended health, and dental plans for employees.
On June 16, an attempted mediation with Vince Ready ended in failure when the employer came to the table with a repackaging of the same concessions it has promoted since April. Still, morale among Local members remains high.
“Our members know they’re being lied to, and they’re angry as hell about it,” said Miller. “They know that it’s wrong to strip away benefits they’ve already earned, and they know that the company is not being truthful about why it’s doing this or on what basis it is claiming financial hardship. So they are standing strong.”
The dispute took another turn last week with the revelation that PBC’s Board of Directors — which includes six leading figures from the labour community and disgraced former BCNU executive director Gary Fane — supports the employer’s bargaining mandate.
In a company‑wide email sent to PBC employees on June 20, CEO Jan Grude claimed that the proposed concessions had the full support of the Board, “which is comprised of many labour leaders from across the Province.” The next day, PBC Board Chair Mark Olsen in a separate email encouraged CUPE 1816 members to accept the Employer’s concessions. Olsen signed the message as Western Canada Sub‑Regional Manager for LiUNA (Laborers’ International Union of North America).
That evening (June 21), CUPE 1816 members filled a meeting hall in Burnaby to express outrage at the emails and to commit to the Union’s plan moving forward. In the coming days, the Union will turn its attention to the Board — with a particular focus on those members with current or former ties to the labour movement — seeking accountability for its support of the Employer’s mandate.