By Robert Devet
138 days. That’s how long blood collection workers at the Canadian Blood Services (CBS) in Prince Edward Island have been walking the picket line.
The eight CBS workers, members of the Nova Scotia Union of Public and Private Employees (NSUPE) are all part-timers. And they’re all women. All they want is a guaranteed minimum number of hours of work each week.
That would provide some much needed economic certainty in their lives. And it would allow them to qualify for health benefits.
CBS, the national not-for-profit organization that manages the blood supply, said no in September, and hasn’t budged since.
It’s -8° C out in Charlottetown today, -14 with the windchill. But despite the cold, and despite the length of the ordeal, CBS blood collection worker and NSUPE Local 19 president Tanya Herrell is remarkably upbeat.
“We’re not enjoying it, obviously, but we are very dedicated and we strongly believe that what we are fighting for is to stop what is happening right across Canada,” Herrell says. “CBS wants to have a workforce at their beck and call, and that’s wrong.”
“CBS told us that they are concerned it will set a precedent for their other clinics across the country,” says Nancy Elliott, the NSUPE official who was closely involved in the bargaining sessions in PEI.
“They said only three bargaining units have guaranteed hours, and it appears CBS wants to put an end to that,” Elliott says.
“CBS is being transformed into a business, as opposed to a public service or a humanitarian organization,” says Ron Stockton, business agent for the Charlottetown Local. These days it’s all about automation and squeezing efficiencies out of donors and workers.
“If you are operating on that model it is never about delivering service, it is always about getting the biggest bang for your buck.”
Donors fall victim to this just as much as the workers, says Stockton.
For instance, the union was told that come February two positions will be eliminated and that donors will be dealing with a touch screen and a card reader in a kiosk, rather than interacting with a human being.
Stockton fears the organization is being set up for some form of privatization. Yet its main funders, the provinces and territories, don’t seem to care, he says.
That’s what Herrell is discovering as well.
“Our Health minister just switched departments,” she says. “The old one certainly didn’t want to talk to us. We have a letter in with the new minister, we’re waiting. The premier doesn’t return our phone calls either.”
Politicians may be dropping the ball, but the public stands solidly behind the women.
“We are getting a lot of support from the public,” Herrell says. “They believe in us and they tell us that we are doing the right thing.”
“People honk when they drive by all the time. Some people stop by with gift cards for Tim Hortons, that kind of stuff.”
“Many of the other unions have come together and given us donations, we got a Christmas meal for all of us, it’s been very good.”
“It would have been much more difficult if we didn’t have that kind of support of individuals and unions,” Herrell says.
Email Graham Sher, CEO of CBS (who scrapes by on a mere $700,000 a year) to let him know you support the Charlottetown workers.
Stay current with the latest developments and show your support by joining the workers on Facebook.
This story originally appeared at the Nova Scotia Advocate