Patients were being turned away from Life Labs in Sechelt Jan. 21 and 22 as employees protested what their union is calling an "unacceptable offer," tabled last Saturday by the employer. The Sechelt office was reopened Jan. 23.
If an agreement can't be reached soon, more strike action will be mobilized, British Columbia Govern-ment and Service Employ-ees' Union (BCGEU) spokesperson Karen Tankard said. The two key issues for employees are higher wages and better long-term disability benefits.
As of Coast Reporter press time Jan. 24, the union had directed more areas to strike from Jan 26 to 28; however, Sechelt was not on the list. The Life Labs location in Gibsons cannot be closed because it's considered an essential service laboratory to the area.
The Sechelt laboratory is one of about 30 that are involved in the strike action being organized by the BCGEU.
Although the private company Life Labs has a total of 80 labs in B.C., only 40 are unionized. The unionized members have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2011.
On Saturday, Jan. 19, Life Labs came to the bargaining table with the following offer for BCGEU employees: a two per cent wage increase effective Jan. 1, 2013; a one per cent wage increase effective July 1, 2013; and a one per cent wage increase effective Jan. 1, 2014.
The employer also "withdrew several proposals with regards to vacation, special leave and benefit cost sharing," a press release from the company read. Life Labs was not willing to change its stance on long-term disability (LTD), saying employees would "pay the LTD premium and enjoy tax-free benefits should they need them."
Tankard said the offer was "unacceptable" and was rejected because it came with a zero per cent raise for the first year of the expired contract. The union has also stated the deal comes with concessions that "effectively reduce any wage increase to zero or close to it," and "dressing up the fact that the employee-paid LTD premiums provide a non-taxable benefit if claimed does not change the fact that you are paying for your own wage increase."
The Life Labs offer came to the BCGEU at the end of the day on Saturday, Jan. 18, and soon after strike notice was given.
Life Labs said they invited the union back to the table on Sunday, but the BCGEU denies the claim.
"We haven't had an official request from them to come back to the bargaining table," Tankard said. "Our members don't want to stand on picket lines, we want to get this sorted out, so yes, we are willing to come back to the bargaining table if the employer is willing to present an option that our members feel is fair and reasonable."
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