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HSA president predicts tough bargaining in 2012

HSA members are angry and want to see gains in their next contract that will help B.C. regain a "competitive edge" in hiring health professionals, the union's president said Wednesday.

Reid Johnson made the statement in the wake of a pre-bargaining conference that brought together more than 60 member-delegates of the Health Sciences Association from across the province this week in a Burnaby hotel. The HSA represents health professionals like ultra-sound technologists and social workers.

"Our last contract was held to a zero mandate," Johnson told The Tyee by phone. "Our members are angry, and they want to see some respect in the next contract. They want to see an increase in their wages."

Johnson said that B.C. is "bleeding" qualified health services professionals to other provinces where wages are more competitive. He cited the fact that a starting ultrasound technologist makes $6 an hour more in Alberta than in B.C., and said that the wage disparity between B.C. rates and what professionals make across Canada can be as high as $10 dollars an hour.

"B.C. has fallen way behind," he said. "The B.C. government has been quite ham-fisted. There really hasn't been any free collective bargaining in health care for a decade now. Your readers need to know that it is essential that there be public support for quality health care in this province."

The current contract for Johnson's members will expire at the end of March next year. More than 14,000 of his union's 17,000 members are covered by a master agreement with the Health Employers Association of BC, an agreement that also covers smaller numbers of BCGEU and HEU members.

"But really, it's the government that sets the bargaining mandate and agenda," Johnson said. He told The Tyee that the government needs to take a page from the federal Conservatives, who have decided to defer balancing the budget for a few years in order to respond to the current economic crisis.

"It just makes sense to pay professional health care workers fairly," he said. "Over 85 per cent of our membership is female, and many of those women are the primary source of income for their families. Dollars paid to these professionals go right back into the economy and promote healthy growth."

Johnson said that fair wages for his members would promote economic growth in a way that the tax cuts of the past decade in B.C. had failed to do. Citing Stats Canada figures, he said that B.C. had lost close to $16 billion dollars in tax revenues over the Liberal decade due to business tax cuts. The cuts, he said, had been rationalized by the hope that corporations would invest their tax savings in capital goods and new hiring. Instead, corporate profits went up from 8 per cent of GDP in 2001 to 12.4 per cent in 2010, while the newly profitable firms reduced capital investment by 20 per cent against the figures for 2001.

Tom Sandborn covers health care policy and labour news for the Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at

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