© Dave Stewart/The Guardian
Sisira Siriwardane, a newcomer from Kenya now living in Charlottetown, dropped by Wednesday to lend his support to eight employees of the Canadian Blood Services who have been on strike for the past four months. They are demanding at least 18.5 hours a week in order to qualify for health benefits. Talks broke off in early December.
Canadian Blood Services (CBS) workers have been on strike for almost five, grinding months in Charlottetown. Since they set up picket lines late last summer, workers say support from the community is helping to boost their spirits. But one area where support is lacking is with the provincial government.
Granted, the issue involves a national union with a national employer. The province doesn’t want to go looking for trouble if it can be avoided. But the strike involves local residents, the CBS collection site is in Charlottetown and picket lines have rotated to provincial government buildings to draw attention to the issue.
There are lots of tax dollars going to support CBS and the strike must have some impact on the blood supply for P.E.I hospitals. Collection clinics are suffering. How does the province not get involved?
The union is seeking help in getting a settlement and the ministers responsible for labour and health have turned a deaf ear. An earlier attempt was made earlier to have a meeting with Health Minister Doug Currie but he declined. The union is hoping to have better luck with new minister, Robert Henderson.
There were 11 workers on the picket line when the strike began Sept. 7 and now eight are still bravely holding out hope for a settlement. Workers have been without a contract since March 2011.
Unlike most strikes where wages are the usual stumbling block, CBS workers are seeking guaranteed minimum hours and the benefits associated with them.
The strikers have gotten some help from P.E.I. labour — especially around Christmastime — and from Islanders dropping off treats and honking horns. CBS is dragging its feet on this issue and has refused to budge.
CBS also seems to want a part-time, on-demand workforce which is required to be on call in case they are needed. The workers obviously love their jobs if they are willing to be out on the picket lines in the cold, snow and rain for the past 140 days.
The province could at last signal its interest in seeing the strike come to an end. The two sides did resume talks in late November but negotiations broke down in early December and have not resumed.
The province could urge both sides to return to the bargaining table; it could offer a mediator; or talk to the federal minister responsible for labour. It could at least signal it has some concern.
The province’s stay-on-the-sidelines stance is hard to understand.
Cauliflower getting heat
The dispassionate cauliflower has become the unfortunate lightning road for recent concern over soaring food prices — specifically fresh fruits and vegetables. Paying $6 to $7 for one cauliflower has sent shivers up the spines of vegans and sent other shoppers heading for store exits. We had already seen recent big increases in the price of local beef and pork and now we are getting hammered elsewhere.
It’s winter and obviously most fresh fruits and vegetables have to be imported. The low Canadian dollar is largely to blame for high prices for imported seasonal vegetables like tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, cauliflower and corn. Some are grown here in local greenhouses but they are hard-pressed to meet the demand.
Grapes, oranges and other tropical fruits have also increased because of the dollar. There are reports of weather-related issues in the southern U.S. and other areas, which haven’t helped matters.
Root vegetables, such as potatoes, turnips, carrots and parsnips, store well and lots should be available locally at regular prices.
It all suggests that Islanders should expect boiled dinners to become regular fare on supper tables.
The high cost of food puts the onus on large supermarkets to buy more fruits and vegetables locally and perhaps invest in more storage capacity.
Home gardens could also be expanding this coming spring and summer as Islanders look for ways to reduce sky-rocketing food costs.