Community health unions outline benefits alternatives to counter concessions

February 2, 2006

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With community health talks back on this week, efforts to achieve a new contract finally appear to be getting into gear.

"Things are starting to move at the table," says BCGEU president George Heyman. "Progress is slow, but it's still moving."

Heyman says benefits continue to be a major issue for employers, who are represented in the negotiations by the Health Employers Association of B.C.

On Feb. 1, HEABC provided a lengthy presentation to justify their concession demands to reduce benefits coverage. Meanwhile, the union bargaining association countered with a number of concrete solutions to address the issue. One example the unions highlighted is an early intervention pilot project for workers on sick leave and long-term disability in the community social services sector.

"The pilot project has already produced some sizeable savings that run into the millions of dollars for employers in this sector," says Heyman. "It's a very positive example of how we can work cooperatively to improve health outcomes for workers and achieve cost savings. Community health employers seem interested in exploring this opportunity further."

In addition, the unions also proposed other benefit improvements based on the prevention principle that could reduce costs even further. "We could expand access to chiropractic services in the extended health plan as a way to reduce prescription claims as an alternative to skyrocketing drug costs," Heyman says.

For Thurs. Feb. 2, talks are expected to focus in on reclassification issues from the union for audiometric technicians, schedulers, LPNs and LPN supervisors.

With 8,000 members working on the front lines, BCGEU is the biggest union in community health. Our bargaining partners include the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1518, Hospital Employees' Union, Health Sciences Association, Canadian Union of Public Employees, and the Professional Employees Association. Other smaller unions involved in the sector are represented in the talks by the Canadian Auto Workers union.