Pacific Blue Cross and union cut a deal

Contentious labour dispute ends in a six-year-deal with raises and benefit guarantees

The labour dispute between Pacific Blue Cross and CUPE 1816 came to an end Sunday night after both sides ratified a six-year, collective agreement with the help of mediator Vince Ready.

“I’m really happy,” union president Beth Miller told the NOW on Monday morning. “It was a real struggle, but I think it helped with the pressure we were putting on them.”

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CUPE 1816 represents more than 600 employees who work for the Burnaby-based insurance provider.

The union has been without a contract since last year. The labour dispute began in early July when both sides were at an impasse on retiree benefits and wages.

Miller said when it comes to wages, the new agreement will see a 1.5 per cent increase from August 2016 to July 31, 2017 (retroactive), a 1.75 per cent increase in year two, and a two per cent increase each of the following four years.

The two parties also agreed to set up a joint benefits trust, where Pacific Blue Cross will contribute 75 per cent of the premium and 25 per cent will be paid by the retirees.

“The trust will, at a minimum, maintain current benefit levels as set out in the 2014-2016 collective agreement,” Miller said, adding Pacific Blue Cross will cover the costs to set up the trust.

The terms of the trust will be established within 60 days of ratification, she noted, and the trust will be set up by Sept. 1, 2018.

Heidi Worthington, Pacific Blue Cross senior vice-president, said the company is “pleased” with the agreement.

“(It) continues to offer a best-in-class benefits plan to our employees represented by CUPE 1816, and provides for better financial sustainability for the organization,” she wrote in an email.

Employees won’t be heading back to work until Monday, Sept. 18. That’s because before the labour dispute, part of the Canada Way building was being renovated.

“They need to get the third floor completed and desks set up so we can bring 100 people back in,” said Miller.

She anticipates the backlog to be anywhere between 50,000 and 55,000 claims.

“The backlog is going to be huge. You’re going to deal with a lot of errors because management, they can try to do the job, but you can’t learn it in like two to three days.”

Asked how long it could take to clear everything up, Miller couldn’t say, but did suggest it all depends on whether Pacific Blue Cross will provide “blanket overtime.”

Worthington said during the labour disruption, management prioritized claims and processed the costly ones. She did not give a number on how many are still outstanding.

“We are putting plans in place to ramp up our processing capacity. We still encourage members to use our online claiming options, and Insta-Claim with preferred providers,” she said.

In a previous interview with the NOW, when describing what led to the labour dispute, Miller pointed to what she called a “cultural shift” that happened in 2013, when Pacific Blue Cross appointed Jan Grude as its president and CEO. She said the working environment was “more or less family-oriented,” but it had since moved to “more corporate.”

The union filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court last week, stating Pacific Blue Cross violated the Societies Act by postponing this month’s annual general meeting.

Miller said the benefits provider cancelled the meeting because a resolution calling for the removal of seven board directors (one of them being Coun. Colleen Jordan) was coming forward.

“They’ve been non supportive of this labour dispute. Their responsibility is to take care of PBC and the brand and to make sure it runs properly,” she said. “We’re just surprised the board of directors would have allowed (the labour dispute) to go on for so long.”

In an emailed statement, Pacific Blue Cross said “the board of directors has a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interests of Pacific Blue Cross and our 1.5 million members across B.C.”

“Our board stands by the legal decision to postpone the AGM to ensure that its integrity is maintained and negotiations continue in good faith.”

Worthington said the company will be setting a date for the AGM “in the coming days.”

When the time comes, that resolution will still be tabled, according to Miller.

“The battle may be over, but the war has just begun. I’m serious. What the CEO has done has been brutal,” she said.

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