Hospital workers prepared to strike

On April 1, 87 per cent of voters in Whitehorse, Dawson City and Watson Lake said they were ready to strike if necessary.

Yukon’s hospital workers have voted to strike if they can’t come to an agreement with the Yukon Hospital Corp.

On April 1, 87 per cent of voters in Whitehorse, Dawson City and Watson Lake said they were ready to strike if necessary, said Yukon Employees Union president Steve Geick.

As of tomorrow, the union is legally in the position to strike as long as they give the corporation 72-hours notice. But Geick said there’s no plans for that just yet.

“We’re putting out to the hospital, and we put it out to the hospital basically the next day, we want to get back to the table and talk,” he said.

No strike deadline has been set.

The union represents about 250 workers at the three hospitals, including almost all staff except registered nurses and doctors. That includes lab, medical imaging and maintenance staff.

Their four-year contract ran out at the end of last August.

Geick couldn’t say what a strike would look like. But both sides have already signed an essential services agreement. That means they’ve agreed on what the bare minimum is that’s required to keep the hospital running safely.

“We are not going to interfere with people getting health care,” Geick said.

Bargaining lasted for two weeks on Oct. 14 and Dec. 9. Then a federal conciliator was appointed, Geick said.

For two days in March the sides came back together but when that didn’t work the strike vote was held.

The key issue for the union centres on the pension system and how decisions are made, Geick said.

The pension fund is filled by both the union and the hospital corporation. Up until about a year ago, the corporation contributed 60 per cent of the money. Last April that was changed to a 50/50 split.

At the same time, early retirement age for new employees was bumped from 50 to 55 and 60 to 65 for regular retirement. Geick said those decisions were pushed through unilaterally by the hospital’s board because of the way things are currently structured.

As it stands right now, a five-member committee made up of union and corporation representatives can make recommendations for the pension fund’s management, but “the board makes the final decision,” Geick said.

In its new deal, the union is looking for some protection involving pension decisions. He doesn’t have any details on what that would look like. The idea was a non-starter with the corporation, he said.

“To put some sort of protection into the collective agreement (so) that major changes in the pension plan, we would have more of a say in,” he said. “What it looks like, I don’t know. That doesn’t cost anything.”

Hospital spokesperson James Low said the corporation is ready and willing to talk. He would not comment on specific points of the negations, “but we can say that there is common ground between us and our employees,” he said. “We have also been consistent and clear from the outset that we are open to working with the union to find a solution and reach a final agreement.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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