Still fighting

Published on January 21, 2016
In this file photo Sisira Siriwardane, a newcomer from Kenya now living in Charlottetown, dropped by to lend his support to eight employees of the Canadian Blood Services who have been on strike.
Dave Stewart/The Guardian

Support from the community is helping to boost the spirits of eight blood service employees still on strike in Charlottetown.

That's how Tanya Herrell, president of the local union that represents the Canadian Blood Services (CBS) workers, describes it.

"At Christmas time we had a lot of support,'' Herrell said on Wednesday as she and fellow striker Leanne Voutour braved the chilly temperatures outside the CBS building on Fitzroy Street.

"We had a Christmas meal donated to each of us and we were given gift cards for our families and our children.''

Wednesday was Day 136 on the picket line for the workers who are all part-time, fighting for guaranteed minimum hours and the benefits associated with them.

Talks between the two sides broke off last month, and there's no word on when they might resume.

Some people simply drive by and honk their horns in support. One man pulled over and handed the women gift cards for Starbucks.

Sisira Siriwardane, a newcomer who worked as a doctor in Kenya before moving to Charlottetown, walked up and gave each of the women a warm hug.

"I think it's time to get some good results (for the workers), a solution on their side,'' Siriwardane told The Guardian. "It's high time (CBS came back to the bargaining table). It's been four months.

"I have never seen this type of trade union action or anything like it. I hope there is a solution that (works in the employees' favour).''

Herrell said they tried to meet with former P.E.I. Health Minister Doug Currie but "he wouldn't see us''. They are currently trying to schedule a meeting with current Health Minister Robert Henderson. Although it's not a provincial issue, Herrell said it could still be a productive meeting.

"There is a lot of taxpayers' money that goes toward the Canadian Blood Services, so speaking with the health minister, it's a health issue. Blood is needed everywhere.''

John Hanrahan, president of the Confederation of Canadian Unions (CCU), the country's largest federation of independent labour unions, was in Charlottetown this week to lend his support.

"CBS has to come back to the table,'' Hanrahan told The Guardian. "These women deserve better. (CBS doesn't) want to guarantee any hours for their staff; they want a part-time, on-demand workforce across the country.''

Hanrahan said the employees, who are required to be on call in case they are needed, want no fewer than 18.5 hours per week in order to be covered for health benefits.

"These ladies are fighting for all CBS workers across the nation, for guaranteed hours and benefits.''

The Guardian did reach out to Canadian Blood Services for a comment, but there was no immediate response.

Voutour says with the support of the community they intend to keep going.

"We wouldn't have stood out here for 136 days if we didn't love our jobs,'' Voutour said. "We love working here. This is where we want to be and we're fighting to get what we think we deserve.''

A rally is planned in Charlottetown on Jan. 30 with details to be announced soon.