P.E.I. blood service workers on strike indefinitely

Mitch MacDonald comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on December 6, 2015
Members of Nova Scotia Union of Public and Private employees, including Charlottetown's striking blood workers, participate in a rally outside of Province House Saturday.

Employees show no signs of giving up after negotiations Canada Blood Services break down

Holding a protest sign in the cold just a few weeks before Christmas is not where Leanne Voutour wanted to be.


As one of 10 Canadian Blood Services (CBS) employees in Charlottetown on strike, Voutour is in an unenviable position of uncertainty.


The group is unsure whether the strike will be resolved by the new year after negotiations over a guaranteed number of hours broke off between workers and CBS last week.


Although, uncertainty over job security is something they've experienced even before the strike began 14 weeks ago.


"It's been very stressful financially (before the strike). To not know what hours you're going to get week-to-week or if you need to get a part-time job," said Voutour. "I absolutely didn't think it would last this long, it seems like a very simple request."


A group of about 25 other members of the Nova Scotia Union of Public and Private Employees (NSUPE) from Halifax, as well as a number of Island supporters, joined the striking Charlottetown Local 19 workers for a rally held throughout the city on Saturday.


The group first met at Victoria Park, before moving the rally to Province House and later by the CBS location on Fitzroy Street.


While they saw encouragement from motorists, NSUPE president Joe Kaiser said the workers have also seen support pour in from unions across Canada.


Some union members have even picketed outside of the CBS location in Vancouver.


"They've been getting attention across Canada which is good for a small local," said Kaiser. "But because they're small, we feel the more support they can get the better their chances will be to reach a deal that's good for them."


The crux of the issue lies in the blood workers, who are all part-time, being given guaranteed hours and the benefits associated with them.


The lack of a guarantee makes it difficult to know if employees will always receive their benefits, which are evaluated every six months.


"So if you fall short of hours in the six month period, it would be cut," said Voutour. "It sometimes comes and goes for some of the staff."


Local 19 president Tanya Herrell said the sporadic hours also make it unable to work another part-time job.


"They (CBS) don't want to guarantee any hours, yet they want us available while it's open, which is 10 or 11 hours a day," said Herrell. "It's kind of like being on call without being paid for it."


Some involved in Saturday's rally also pulled back the curtain on CBS CEO Graham Sher's own salary of $750,000 a year.


Herrell said the strike will continue indefinitely.


"No one wants to be striking in the cold this close to Christmas," she said. "We feel very strongly in our cause so we're going to stay out until we get something that we're satisfied with."


Kaiser said CBS stated that communication will remain open even though negotiations have broken off.


"We'll be encouraging them to continue to talk and get back to the table and try to work out something that works for both sides."


Voutour said she hopes the public will have a greater say in those talks.


"It is taxpayers' money who ultimately pays for the service. I think maybe the public should have a say in how this runs instead of a CEO."