UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

In search of parity : the Hospital Employees’ Union in the British Columbia long term care industry Angel, Elizabeth Sharon


In the decade between 1974 and 1984, union certifications for service workers in the B.C. long term care industry increased from twenty-one to one hundred and fourteen. From 1976 to 1984 wages increased as much as two hundred percent in some facilities while the cost of living, went up by ninety percent. These substantial changes were due largely to the efforts of the Hospital Employees' Union (HEU). The HEU wanted to expand into long term care and attain for its long term care members the rates found in its acute care Master Agreement. This thesis analyzes the development of the HEU as the principal union representing service workers in long term care and the extent to which the Union was successful in achieving its goals. Previous to 1973 long term care unions had difficulty achieving first collective agreements due to employer intransigence. Invoking Section 73 of the provincial Labour Code, they could circumvent this problem through arbitrated settlements, thus removing one of the major impediments to union growth. The growth of non-profit facilities after 1978, brought about by public funding of the industry, acted as a catalyst to union growth. In non-profit facilities employer resistance to organizing was less than in proprietary facilities and bed capacities were generally larger, making organizing less costly for unions. In 1984 the HEU held more than two-thirds of all certifications in long term care. The Union was more willing to make use of Section 73 than the other long term care unions. It also had financial and organizational resources that contributed to its organizing success in the industry. There are two employers' associations in long term care, the Health Labour Relations Association (HLRA) and the Continuing Care Employee Relations Association (CCERA). CCERA will likely emerge as the dominant employers' association in the industry. CCERA's forerunner, the labour relations function of the Long Term Care Association, was set up by non-profit long term care employers with the help of the provincial government to provide an alternative to HLRA as HLRA mainly represents acute care employers. However, through arbitration the HEU has been able to establish its Master Agreement as the appropriate rate of remuneration for long term care employees. The greater consolidation of bargaining structure that has occurred and the creation of a separate long term care employers' association does not appear to have prevented this outcome. Through arbitrated and negotiated settlements, the HEU has achieved Master Agreement rates, or at least 95% of Master Agreement rates, in all of its long term care facilities except for those without first collective agreements, or those that achieved first collective agreements after the Compensation Stabilization Program was implemented. Arbitrators agreed with the HEU's position that its long term care members were entitled to the same rates of pay as its members in general hospitals, as the work performed was comparable. However, until the industry became publicly funded in 1978, they felt obliged to consider the employer's ability to pay an increase. From 1978 on arbitration awards more closely reflected Master Agreement rates. However, it was not until government officials publicly stated that the costs of arbitrated settlements would be covered by the Ministry of Health that arbitrators consistently began to award Master Agreement rates. The Compensation Stabilization Act, passed in 1982, has had the effect of preventing the attainment of Master Agreement rates in all HEU facilities. Although arbitrators have continued to award the Master Agreement, the Commissioner has rejected many of the resulting "compensation plans" stating that the proposed increases fall outside the Program's Guidelines. In April 1985 long term care workers represented approximately thirteen percent of the HEU's total membership. Expansion into this industry has increased significantly the Union's size. It is unlikely, however, that the HEU has yet benefited financially from this growth. Since there are five other unions in the industry, the HEU is unlikely to ever be the sole representative of long term care service workers. However, the HEU holds seventy-seven certifications in the industry while the union with the next largest membership holds only twelve certifications. The health care union clearly has come to dominate long term care.

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