Company to blame for hassles caused by service delays, union leaders tell local rally
BURNABY—By locking out its unionized staff, Pacific Blue Cross (PBC) is only hurting its corporate brand and weakening the company with service disruptions and a mounting backlog of unprocessed benefit claims, union leaders told a picket line rally in support of CUPE Local 1816 outside PBC’s head office late this afternoon.
“Pacific Blue Cross and its CEO, Jan Grude, will of course blame the union for a situation that now sees us more than a month into a lockout with no end in sight,” said CUPE BC President Paul Faoro.
“But let’s remember: they’re the ones who started this by trying to roll back retiree benefits for their employees. They’re the ones who locked out their workers. They’re the ones who introduced unilateral changes to working conditions by cancelling sick time, flex time and family responsibility leave and by refusing to recognize seniority in promotions. And they’re the ones who ignored PBC Society bylaws by postponing the AGM. Did they not think there would be consequences?”
BC Federation of Labour President Irene Lanzinger said that PBC has no one to blame but itself for the service disruptions.
“Pacific Blue Cross has always prided itself on being a ‘progressive’ benefits provider,” said Lanzinger, “but a company that takes an all-or-nothing approach to bargaining, and then locks out its workers just because they won’t take concessions, is not being progressive.
“A company that tramples on the democratic rights of its members by cancelling its AGM, just because its board of directors is feeling the heat, is not being progressive. What kind of message does this send to plan subscribers—especially families on fixed incomes who just want to have their prescription drugs and their kids’ dental work paid for?”
CUPE 1816 members Mike Parrott and Momena Kayode, who also addressed the crowd, drew knowing smiles from their fellow local members by repeating how “deeply saddened and disappointed” they were by PBC’s behaviour—a favourite employer phrase in e-mails to staff describing the company’s response to the Union’s job action.
“At one time I was proud to say that I work for PBC, but at this moment in time, I’m deeply saddened to say where I work,” said Parrott, noting that this is the first lockout by the company in its 75-year history.
Kayode stirred the crowd with a passionate speech about the inspiration she has drawn from public support for CUPE 1816 members through the long dispute.
“As a single mother, I can tell you [the lockout] really hit hard and it hurt. But the thing that keeps me going is knowing that we are all in this together. I am not alone in this battle,” she said. “But even better than that is seeing the incredible support that we have received…Seeing the many members of other unions walking the picket lines with us, most right after they’ve worked their own shift, is inspiring.”
CUPE 1816 President Beth Miller thanked the many CUPE locals and other unions, as well as local businesses, that have supported her local during the lockout in various ways, including visits to the picket line and donations of food and refreshments.
Also at the rally, Local 1816 members presented a $1,000 cheque to the Canadian Red Cross for B.C. forest fire relief, the result of donations collected on the picket line.
Today, CUPE BC launched a new page on its website, www.PBCproblems.ca, where PBC plan members can tell the company to put a stop to service delays. As well as calling for PBC to end the lockout by negotiating a fair deal for PBC staff, visitors to the site can also tell the company to uncancel its previously scheduled September 7 Annual General Meeting.
To see photos from the rally, visit the gallery.COPE 491