Unionized workers at LifeLabs B.C. operations kicked off job action Saturday, after entering a legal strike position Friday night.
Workers were set to rally outside the company’s Burnaby Reference Lab, before implementing an overtime ban and a work-to-rule campaign.
Speaking on Global News Morning Saturday, BC General Employees Union president Stephanie Smith said wages and benefits were the key sticking points, with LifeLabs’ estimated 1,550 B.C. workers being paid between 4.5 and 13.5 per cent less than their counterparts in the public system.
“And of course during COVID they have been worked to the bone,” she said.
“They’re looking for a collective agreement that recognizes their vital contribution to the services British Columbians rely on.”
Contract negotiations have been underway since the spring, and Smith said the union voted 98 per cent in favour of a strike mandate in July. The strike notice came after 30 days at the bargaining table and eight days of mediation, according to the union.
In a statement, LifeLabs said it negotiations with the union were set to resume Saturday evening.
The company added that it has been designated an essential service by the BC Labour Relations Board, and will remain operational throughout the job action.
“Importantly, the BCGEU has confirmed that they will not provide notice of closure of Patient Service Centres unless the parties reach impasse at the table. LifeLabs locations will remain open as regularly scheduled, per the terms of the Essential Services Order.”
Speaking Wednesday, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the job action would have a limited effect on COVID-19 testing, which is “principally” done in provincial labs.
“We’re doing our own testing program on COVID-19, and that will remain unchanged,” he said. “We’re confident we’re going to be able to provide care.”
Smith said if the two sides didn’t reach a deal in the short term, the union could begin escalating job action by Nov. 1, which could include picket lines at “selected sites.”