Nurses’ Bargaining Association contract talks formally underway

VANCOUVER—Wages and premiums are the number one priority for nurses. There will be no concessions in this round of bargaining, and the stripping away of any member health benefits is not on the table. The priorities of CUPE members have been shared with the constituent unions in the Nurses’ Bargaining Association (NBA), and we will continue to push for meaningful change on those issues.

These are the key takeaways from the NBA’s opening presentation to the Health Employers Association of BC (HEABC) on December 8. The NBA’s membership includes 35 nurses who are members of CUPE 1004.

The NBA bargaining committee dominated the initial session with HEABC, bringing the indisputable power of nurses’ voices from around the province. The committee provided first-hand accounts of the personal and professional impact of the nurse staffing crisis, highlighting how desperately nurses need help.

HEABC representatives were greeted by large boards signed by delegates at the October provincial bargaining conference answering the question, ‘For this round of bargaining, nurses deserve…’.  The boards included impactful messages from members, including calls for better wages, respect, and safe workplaces, forcing the negotiators to appreciate that all discussions will have one audience in mind: working nurses.

Lead negotiator and BCNU interim CEO Jim Gould made NBA’s position clear: with health authorities falling short of provincial targets for safe care delivery, the NBA has leverage thanks to outstanding levels of public support. Nurses are furious, and this is the round of bargaining to do things differently.

Gould shared a series of statistics that underscore the need for this round of bargaining to seriously address shortcomings in the system directly linked to recruitment and retention issues. Among them:

  • 88 per cent of B.C. nurses say they’re working short at least once a week;
  • Each additional patient added to a nurse’s assignment increases the odds of patient death by 16 per cent;
  • 79 per cent of nurses say they have witnessed patients suffering adverse health outcomes due to poor nurse staffing; and
  • 36 per cent report experiencing workplace discrimination, while 54 per cent report witnessing it.

The Committee shared its expectation that principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion be incorporated throughout the bargaining process to recognize our membership’s social diversity, including race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, nationality, religion, language, and age. The Committee also expressed its desire to have both parties recognize the Indigenous-specific racism and discrimination in the healthcare system and incorporate the findings of the <In Plain Sight Report (2020)>, specifically that negotiators maintain an anti-racist mindset when considering contract language.

The Committee advised the employer that 99 per cent of members at the last bargaining conference said that they’d be prepared to strike to achieve their top five “must haves”: Improved wages and premiums, mandatory nurse-patient ratios, safety on the job, flexibility and leaves, and benefits.

Dates for contract talks have been set for this week, after which bargaining will pause over the holiday season. Meetings will resume in January.