The Columbia Journal
P.O. Box 2633 MPO,
Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada V6B 3W8
- Volume Eight, Number Eight: December 2003
Dark Shadows Cast
Solidarity may be forever, but it’s not always consistent, if the
recent BC Federation of Labour convention in Vancouver is any
The escalating confrontation between the IWA Canada and the rest of the
labour movement over one of the union’s locals, 1-3567, signing highly
concessionary contracts with the executives of four multinational
corporations seeking to take advantage of the BC Liberal government’s
sell-off efforts of public health facilities, cast a dark shadow over
the convention’s resolve to lead a united opposition to the regime.
Despite being ruled in violation of the constitution of the Canadian
Labour Congress, which said last month the so-called “voluntary
agreements” signed with no mandate from the local’s membership and
prior to the firms’ hiring of any employees, the IWA’s national
executive appeared to commit to supporting the local’s actions.
A composite resolution designed to encourage both the IWA and its chief
opponent, the Hospital Employees Union, whose members at many
facilities have been fired as they have been closed or turned over to
the corporations, to settle the matter amicably, was rejected by the
IWA convention delegation.
“The IWA is ready to look for a solution to this, but I don’t think the
HEU is ready find any compromised solution,” said Wilf McIntyre, second
national vice-president of the IWA, adding that the resolution implies
that the union local would have to give up these contracts and allow
workers hired under these provisions to join the HEU. “This resolution
doesn’t do this. If necessary we will fight, and you’re in for a fight.”
His comments prompted heckles and jeers from many of the over one
thousand delegates and dozens of visitors and observers. A group of
health care workers in the visitors’ gallery vowed to do whatever they
could to challenge the IWA, including approaching the newly hired
workers under these contracts to ask them to quit the IWA and join the
“They’re raiding us and we’re supposed to let them get away with this,”
said one HEU member, who chose not to give his name for fear of
reprisal from his employer. He works as an orderly at the Vancouver
Hospital and Health Sciences Center, formerly known as the Vancouver
General Hospital. He claims he has witnessed Local 1-3567 members on
site at the hospital trying to recruit HEU members at the facility to
join the IWA, and that the hospital’s management seems to approve.
“The Liberals lied to the public in the last election that they would
protect public health care and us people who help provide it,” he said.
“Now they’re going off firing everyone they can and selling our jobs
off to the lowest bidder, and the IWA’s helping them do it all the way.
It’s like we put our jobs on the line to fight for health care, and the
IWA gets jobs for taking it apart.”
Three of the contracts signed by Local 1-3567’s leadership are with
Sudhexo, Aramark and Compass: multinational firms that specialize in
taking over health care operations, mainly long-term care residences,
that have been sold off by public health systems. Working and pay
conditions in these privatized facilities are for the most part
substantially lower than those in the public sector, and, according to
health care advocacy groups, there have been many concerns raised about
lower service quality and health standards.
The new contracts call for wage rates for about $9.30 an hour with no
benefits—less than half of what HEU members are paid. Even HEU
collective agreements at existing private for-profit facilities,
including recently sold-off facilities where workers have joined or
re-joined the HEU, call for pay rates that are substantially higher
than the Local 1-3567 contracts—and this, along with these contracts
being signed without the traditional democratic process, has been
especially galling for legions of union members.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the national labour
organization to which the HEU is affiliated, threatened at its recent
convention to withhold its membership fees to the CLC unless it imposes
immediate sanctions against the IWA, which itself is currently locked
in a bitter strike against imposed contract provisions by forest
company bosses on 6,000 of its members in wood harvesting and
In addition, the union is facing internal conflict over the situation.
Although most of the IWA delegates left the BC Fed convention during
the debate on the resolution, some stayed and expressed their
opposition to Local 1-3567’s actions. The move also caused a stir at
the IWA’s convention in Kelowna in October, as many of its delegates
from across the country denounced the contracts as a betrayal of the
union’s principles and legacy.
Meetings are currently under way between IWA and HEU representatives to
try to hammer out a solution. So far, no agreement has been reached.