Union builds new foundation to support stable jobs, better care

Following a generation of sustained attacks on health workers, the Hospital Employees’ Union, CUPE’s BC health services division, has regained critical job security protections for the vast majority of HEU’s membership.

“Brick by brick, we’re building a new foundation that will support stable jobs for workers and deliver better care to British Columbians,” says HEU secretary-business manager Jennifer Whiteside.

Over more than a decade and a half, tens of thousands of workers lost their jobs whenever health care services were contracted out or subcontracted to private, for-profit companies, or when those contracts were “flipped.”

Those mass firings, which impacted workers in hospital support services, as well as care and support workers in the province’s seniors’ care homes, were facilitated by legislation enacted by the BC Liberals in 2001 and 2003.

Bill 29 and Bill 94 barred health care workers from accessing their successorship rights under the B.C. Labour Relations Code and eliminated “no contracting out” language in the facilities subsector collective agreement.

But as 2019 unfolds, Whiteside says the union is on a new footing when it comes to employment security for HEU members.

“We live in politically and economically volatile times. Our members need to know they can rely on stable employment, and that their union is using every available tool to make their jobs secure.

She says a critical turning point came 18 months ago.

That’s when the union’s 4,000 members in the contracted support services sector won an agreement to protect workers’ jobs - and their union representation - when corporate contracts changed hands.

“That was the first brick in a new foundation,” says Whiteside. “It sent a very strong message to health authorities that the days of tossing out entire workforces, with no protections, were coming to an end.”

Then, as 2018 came to a close, the province’s NDP government made good on its long-standing promise to HEU members that it would repeal Bills 29 and 94.

With the passage of The Health Sector Statutes Repeal Act (Bill 47) health care workers’ right to access successorship provisions under B.C.’s Labour Relations Code was restored. With those protections workers no longer stand to lose their collective agreement or union membership when a business is sold or transferred from one business to another.

At the same time, HEU members in the Facilities Bargaining Association succeeded in winning back the contracting out protections eliminated 16 years earlier by the BC Liberals.

The new FBA collective agreement also set out a process and guidelines for government, health employers and the union to look at the potential of returning contracted-out services to the direct control of health authorities.

“And now, with recent legislation amending the province’s labour code, successorship protections for health care workers are no longer limited to situations where a company has been sold or transferred,” Whiteside explains.

Those protections have now been expanded to cover health care workers and others experiencing contract flipping.

“All these changes are providing the momentum we need to keep moving forward. In the coming months we will continue to build the case for returning contracted support services to the direct control of B.C.’s health authorities,” says Whiteside.

“And in our independent long-term care sector, we’ll be focused on how to rebuild a common industry standard for workers and establish appropriate standards of care for seniors.”

This article is republished from the Spring 2019 issue The Guardian, HEU’s newspaper. You can read the full issue (available in English only) and check out past issues at heu.org/the_guardian