LifeLabs workers reach tentative agreement after day of labour action

·3 min read
LifeLabs employees rally outside the company's Burnaby Reference Laboratory on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. (Jon Hernandez/CBC - image credit)
LifeLabs employees rally outside the company's Burnaby Reference Laboratory on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. (Jon Hernandez/CBC - image credit)

UPDATE: Oct. 24, 2021 — The B.C. General Employees' Union, which represents LifeLabs workers, said a tentative agreement had been reached with the company early Sunday.

The labour action started on Saturday will be paused until Monday, when workers will vote on the agreement.

LifeLabs said the new contract will last for three years.

EARLIER STORY:

Nearly 1,600 staff of LifeLabs medical laboratories escalated their labour contract dispute this weekend, but the company and union have said there would be minimal disruption to patients.

LifeLabs is the province's largest private health laboratory company, with 94 facilities across B.C. Its workers are unionized with the B.C. General Employees' Union.

The labour action started at 7 p.m. PT Friday, according to the union, and saw employees stop accepting overtime and any tasks outside their job descriptions.

The union held a rally at a company facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Saturday, with attendees holding signs that said, "If health care heroes are outside, something is wrong inside."

Jon Hernandez/CBC
Jon Hernandez/CBC

The BCGEU issued a 72-hour strike notice on Wednesday, alleging in a statement that "several months of negotiations failed to secure a new collective agreement."

"The over-time ban and work-to-rule campaign will be in effect at all 94 LifeLabs locations where the BCGEU represents workers," the union said in a statement Saturday morning.

The company said all its laboratory locations remain open this weekend, and said on its website "it is prepared to resume negotiations this weekend."

"LifeLabs continues to be committed to negotiations and hopes to reach a fair agreement soon to support the needs of our employees and the communities that they serve," the firm said. In a statement on Saturday afternoon, the BCGEU told CBC News that negotiations with LifeLabs would resume again that evening.

As a designated "essential service" by the province's labour relations board, its services "will remain operational throughout the BCGEU job action," LifeLabs stated.

Saturday's protest started at the company's Burnaby Reference Laboratory at 2 p.m. PT on Saturday. The union described the protest as the "first phase of job action," followed by a ban on employees working overtime and a "work-to-rule" approach that restricts employees to tasks listed in their job descriptions and collective agreement.

The firm's employees have not had a contract for roughly six months, with the BCGEU citing wages as a key area of conflict with LifeLabs.

"LifeLabs created a staffing crisis across their organization that was causing problems for their employees and their patients long before the pandemic," said union president Stephanie Smith.

"They've refused to work with our members to address the underlying issues at the bargaining table so, unfortunately, job action is the next step."

The dispute so far does not involve any picket lines. But the union said it could launch a strike at some LifeLabs locations if the company doesn't budge by Nov. 1, in one week. It said that some laboratories would remain open regardless due to "essential service agreements" in place.

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