About 20 hospital cleaners and food services workers staged an information picket outside Royal Columbian Hospital on Thursday afternoon.
A year of negotiations with U.S.-based Aramark and U.K.-based Compass Group have not led anywhere on wages - and now the Hospital Employees' Union is seeking a strike mandate to back contract talks with the two companies, which could impact health care in Burnaby and New Westminster.
The province privatized hospital cleaning and food services 10 years ago and four multinational corporations - Acciona, Aramark, Compass-Marquise and Sodexo - employ nearly 4,400 food services and housekeeping workers in B.C.
Karen Matychuk is a Royal Columbian Hospital worker represented by the union. She used her lunch break time to come and support the picket.
“It’s really hard work to keep the hospital clean and when you do it with less people … it’s even harder to do it,” Matychuk, who has worked at Royal Columbian for more than a decade, told the Burnaby NOW. “Even though you want to do it for the people, for the family members. We don’t get paid enough for what we do.”
Matychuk said she can’t live on what she makes, but is too old to get a second job.
“It’s not a living wage and that’s what we’re trying to get, is a living wage,” she said before heading back to work. “Even good benefits would help. All our kids need … their teeth looked after and we can’t afford to do that.”
Matychuk, still in her bright blue hospital uniform, said she wants to see the employees get paid what they deserve.
“They’re not giving us that – why? This is Canada,” she added. “We’re not in a third-world country. They treat us like … we’re just here temporarily or something and that’s not fair.”
On Monday, Sept. 23, Aramark will be meeting for a strike vote, according to Hospital Employees’ Union bargaining representative, Dawn Logan.
“We’ve been at the table for about a year with Aramark,” Logan said. “It’s been push, pull and rag to them. We’ve made some progress in the language of the agreement, but what’s really important is the living wage. Most of our employees work two jobs to try and make ends meet.”
Logan said the union found a way for the company to save $270,000 a year and asked Aramark to reinvest the savings into the employees.
Instead, Aramark said it was going to keep 70 per cent of it and share 30 per cent with the employees, according to Logan.
“We find that a real affront,” she said. “What we’ve been after them for is fair wages, increase in benefits, but just so that it perks them up to near the living wage.”
Logan said the union is asking for more supplies, as well, to do the job properly.
“We don’t want to be on strike,” she noted. “We don’t want that. It really depends on the employer.”
Strike votes begin this week and the results are expected by Oct. 3.
The Aramark negotiations cover contracted cleaning services at a number of Lower Mainland and Sunshine Coast health care facilities. Compass Group negotiations include cleaning and dietary staff at Children's and Women's hospitals, the B.C. Cancer Centre and several hospitals and extended care facilities on Vancouver Island.
The Fraser Health Authority said it has an obligation to make sure a strike does not disrupt service to patients.
"The contract negotiations underway are between (the Hospital Employees' Union) and Aramark, a private company that provides housekeeping services to Fraser Health sites," said Nafisa Abdulla, Fraser Health's senior consultant of public affairs. "This is a labour issue between the private vendor and their unionized employee."
Abdulla said in the event of a 72-hour strike notice, Fraser Health "will ensure that there are access points for staff to enter and we will communicate those access points to staff in advance."
© Copyright 2013