Breaking ground in bargaining

How members achieved historic breakthroughs in new deal for facilities health workers
HEU FBA members holding copy of latest Comp Report

From the Summer 2023 HEU Guardian

When contract talks began for a new Facilities Bargaining Association (FBA) collective agreement last winter, it felt like B.C. was finally coming out of the darkest days of the global pandemic. But there was a profound and lasting impact on the health care system, where crushing workloads fueled peak burnout.

At the same time, the inflation rate was accelerating at an alarming rate and concerns about a recession were looming. Our collective economic future was less than certain. 

During any other period in the province’s past, such challenges could have derailed negotiations for the more than 60,000 health care workers who are part of the facilities subsector. 

Bad economic times are often used by governments to freeze wages, demand concessions, or enforce rollbacks. And when public health care is perceived to be failing, it can spark demands for privatization. 

But none of these harsh measures were evident during bargaining this time. Instead, solidarity between public sector unions and employers, and a government who was open to worker-driven solutions to workplace challenges, resulted in an historic deal with a significant impact on wages, health and safety, and equity. 

“From where I sat, the unprecedented solidarity and collaboration with other public sector unions made for strong coordination across bargaining tables,” says HEU secretary-business manager Meena Brisard, who served as lead negotiator at the FBA table. “It was key to achieving gains for workers and the entire public health care system.

“Our united front forced employers and government to recognize the impact of rapid inflation on workers’ wages.

“In the end, we were able to negotiate a significant compensation package. It included general wage increases and cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), new and improved premiums and allowances, and additional resources to address the impact of historic wage cuts on pay equity.” 

The 2022-2025 FBA agreement also broke significant ground when it came to advancing workers’ rights. 

For HEU members Lisa Kreut and Heather Mandziuk, the gains made to further entrench diversity and equity particularly stand out.  

“For me, the human rights language we negotiated creates a contract that really reflects the values and history of our union,” says Kreut, who served on the FBA bargaining committee and works at Vancouver General Hospital as an inventory supply technician. “HEU has been a vanguard for social justice in the labour movement.

“It’s exciting to see language from our new collective agreement being adopted at other bargaining tables across B.C. and Canada. It puts real tools in the hands of workers to advance inclusion.”

“What we accomplished marks an historic moment,” says Mandziuk, who works as an Enhanced Disability Management Program steward and served on a joint union-employer Indigenous-specific anti-racism working group during bargaining. “We’re in a transitional time, when rights that should have always existed are being recognized.

“The ceremonial, cultural, spiritual, and bereavement leave will have a great impact on the lives of Indigenous members. I’m proud of the contributions that I made to this provision. We now have a solid foundation to build on.”

Indigenous Peoples have always been at the forefront of bringing about change, 
says Mandziuk. 

“Our ancestors took great risks to keep the culture alive when it was being forbidden, banned and beaten out of us,” she says. “Today, many people are in the process of reclaiming and healing, so now’s the time to get back to living and being who we are.” 

Brisard points to another groundbreaking provision, the Memorandum of Agreement “where health employers and HEU have committed to work together to protect the security, privacy and safety of trans workers at all times, through five key measures. The agreement also outlines new opportunities for trans members to access gender or transition support.”

Former HEU secretary-business manager Carmela Allevato, who negotiated what was heralded as a generational-breakthrough FBA agreement in the 1990s, has high praise for the new contract. 

“This is a very, very good deal,” says Allevato. “It reminds me of other high-point collective agreements HEU has negotiated.

“In the 1970s, we bargained for anti-discrimination pay adjustments for 8,400 members. And in the 1990s, we secured pay equity and annual wage adjustments worth hundreds of millions of dollars to HEU members. Each round of bargaining builds on the last.” 

With the agreement ratified last fall, the task of implementing the changes is well underway. 

Securing improvements to the FBA agreement is just the first step, says Brisard. The challenge is making sure members get the full benefit of what was negotiated. 

“Educating our members, shop stewards, health and safety representatives, and staff about the changes has been a big part of the rollout of the new contract,” says Brisard. 

“At the same time, we have many working groups, committees and other forums – both within the union and externally with employers and government – working extremely hard on how to bring life to the new provisions we secured. 

“We keep moving forward, just like we always have at HEU.”

By Neil Monckton