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Unionized employees at LifeLabs issue 72-hour strike notice

B.C. General Employees’ Union members working for LifeLabs issued 72-hour strike notice Wednesday, after what they say is months of negotiations and eight days of mediation.

B.C. General Employees’ Union members working for LifeLabs issued 72-hour strike notice Wednesday, after what they say is months of negotiations and eight days of mediation.

BCGEU president Stephanie Smith cited longstanding issues with low wages and understaffing. “BCGEU members working for LifeLabs are among the ‘healthcare heroes’ that have pushed themselves to the limit and beyond throughout the pandemic,” she said.

LifeLabs said in a statement that most of its sites will remain open in the event of strike action, but some will be closed on a rotating basis starting Monday. The Canada-wide company is the country’s largest community laboratory service and provides a range of medical tests.

The company said LifeLabs, which has been designated an essential service by the B.C. Labour Relations Board, has worked with the BCGEU to determine essential-service levels that will be maintained during a strike “in order to provide vital outpatient laboratory for our patients.”

Smith said the strictest definition of essential services is “things that affect life or limb.”

Patients with appointments that need to be rescheduled will be notified directly by LifeLabs, the company said.

Smith said LifeLabs is resisting BCGEU attempts to secure a wage increase to keep up with rising inflation and bring workers closer to the wage standard of their peers in the public sector. The bargaining unit has about 1,550 members and represents 94 out of 130 LifeLabs locations across the province, she said.

She said that the BCGEU workers “are an integral part of our health-care system here in B.C.”

Smith said wage levels and working conditions have created a “staffing crisis” at LifeLabs, while the company said in a statement provided to CHEK News that staffing problems are the result of high retirement rates and turnover due to COVID-19.

The staffing situation led to a decision by LifeLabs to close two Greater Victoria locations — one in Westshore Town Centre and one at 1990 Fort St. — although it hopes to reopen both sites in early 2022, CHEK reported.

BCGEU workers voted 98 per cent in favour of strike action in July. The earliest that job action could start is Friday at 7 p.m. and Smith said the union is prepared to use “every minute” of the time before then to get a deal done.

“Our goal is to get a deal, to get a fair deal for our members that recognizes the level of responsibility that they hold,” Smith said.

LifeLabs said it has delivered “multiple, competitive offers” to the BCGEU and reached agreement in several areas, including key monetary proposals.

Details about affected LifeLabs locations will be at locations.lifelabs.com.

jbell@timescolonist.com