When an employee of the BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) was diagnosed with cancer she had many medical appointments to keep. After returning to work, she still has to go to the Cancer Agency every 3 months for a check up. While she and her colleagues originally had medical appointment leave in their collective agreement the employer wants to roll that back. Their union, MoveUp, represents about 60 office and administrative employees of the BCNU,. Another employee who has had a sick child at home could once rely on the family responsibility leave promised in the collective agreement, but now the BCNU wants to claw that back, in addition to sick leave.
Because they haven’t been able to resolve this in bargaining, BCNU’s employees have been on strike since July 22, when BCNU leadership locked them out and forced a strike, with RankandFile.ca covering it as it began.
Now, after months of striking, the BCNU admitted to being guilty of using a “scab”, an employee who replaces a striking worker, in violation of the Labour Relations Code. An executive assistant, hired after MoveUP began bargaining, was performing the work of three striking MoveUP members as of the first day of the strike. The Labour Relations Board (LRB) consequently ordered the BCNU to discontinue assigning the struck work, with the BCNU accepting the decision.
While this decision is one MoveUp members welcome, David Black, the union’s president, is cautiously optimistic. “That doesn’t prevent them from using management, nor does it prohibit members from other unions from doing our members’ work,” he says in an interview with RankandFile.ca. “There are about 60 of our members. They’ve been both locked out and on strike for three month. Somebody’s doing that work. Certainly it wasn’t this one person only. There are some people who legally can do that work.”
When MoveUP members initially went on strike they were joined by co-workers who were represented by another union, Unifor. For about 3 weeks, the latter joined them on the picket line. But, while MoveUp members and the BCNU could still not come to an agreement, Unifor members were able to reach one.
“Their strike ended and unfortunately part of their return to work agreement was that Unifor members would return to work even though our strike was continuing,” says Black. “That’s been quite difficult for our members. It’s created some strains on solidarity on the picket line. A lot of them feel they’ve been abandoned.”
And so MoveUp members continue to strike, despite a strained relationship with the members of another union, and the real possibility that, legal or not, BCNU is employing other replacement workers. On October 21, day 92nd of the strike, talks between the employer and the union resumed. But by the next day talks ended with the BCNU wanting to cut and create a two-tier system for sick leave entitlements for all future employees.
As Black says, it’s a challenging and perhaps needless fight since MoveUP is dealing with an employer which mistreats its workers, withholding the kind of medical benefits it works to ensure for the nurses they represent, and violating basic standards of the Labour Relations Code.
“They call themselves a union,” Black says, “but I think they have a very difficult time justifying that they are in fact a union.”