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Pacific Blue Cross labour dispute enters fourth week

Unionized workers at one of B.C.’s largest health benefits companies are entering the fourth week of a labour dispute and their own benefits are at the heart of the conflict.

It’s a matter of fairness, according to Pacific Blue Cross CEO Jan Grude, who said the current benefits package offered to employees is more generous than those of their plan members.

“It’s neither fair to our members who have to pay the freight for the plans which are two-and-a-half to three times richer than anything [customers] receive, nor is fair to our plan sponsors.”

Grude said a fairer number would be in the range of two times the average plan, something that would allow both “generosity” and “sustainability.”

Pacific Blue Cross provides about 1.5 million British Columbians with health, dental, life, travel and other insurance, many through employee group plans.

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CUPE national representative James Richardson acknowledged that the job action has meant longer wait times for some Pacific Blue Cross plan holders. But he said workers are facing the possibility of losing retirement benefits.

“We have a good benefits plan, we have good post-retirement benefits, and since Pacific Blue Cross is a benefits provider we don’t make any apologies for that and we don’t see any justification for going backwards in those benefits.”

Richardson added that from the union’s perspective, Blue Cross is comparing apples to oranges by holding up members’ benefits to those of the company’s clients.

“We think if the employer were to look more strictly at unionized benefits plans, they would see significantly different numbers,” he said.

Richardson noted Pacific Blue Cross posted profits of $11 million last year.

But Grude said that Pacific Blue Cross is a private-sector employer, and shouldn’t be held to the standards of a public-sector union contract.

Grude says he hopes the union comes back to the bargaining table, but Richardson says they’re waiting for the offer on the table to change.

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