Lab workers who underpin Manitoba health care ready to strike

Workers at the private laboratory responsible for most medical tests required to diagnose and treat Manitobans could walk off the job.

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Workers at the private laboratory responsible for most medical tests required to diagnose and treat Manitobans could walk off the job.

More than 300 employees at Dynacare labs in Winnipeg and Brandon have voted 99 per cent in favour of a strike mandate after being without a contract since April 1.

The workers, who belong to the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, are required to give Dynacare 14 days’ notice, said union president Bob Moroz.

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More than 300 employees at Dynacare labs in Winnipeg and Brandon have voted 99 per cent in favour of a strike mandate.

“If you imagine the sheer volume of work that our members at Dynacare do throughout Winnipeg and Brandon — all the collection centres, stand-alone sites — all of that, unfortunately, would have to come to a halt,” Moroz said Thursday.

The union and the company are still negotiating, he said.

Except for hospital laboratories, Dynacare owns all facilities in Winnipeg that carry out services such as blood collection and urinalysis.

Following the strike vote, Doctors Manitoba expressed concern about the potential impact a strike would have on health care.

“Physicians and their patients rely on lab tests every day to diagnose and treat medical conditions,” Doctors Manitoba said in an a statement.

“If you imagine the sheer volume of work that our members at Dynacare do throughout Winnipeg and Brandon – all the collection centres, stand-alone sites – all of that, unfortunately, would have to come to a halt.”

“It is a vital and essential service to our health care system, and to the people of Manitoba.”

The lab employees collect patients’ samples, analyze specimens and ensure that accurate, timely results are reported to doctors and other medical professionals.

“We hope to see Dynacare and MACHP, with the support of the province as needed, resolve this issue swiftly to ensure timely and uninterrupted lab testing for Manitoba patients,” said the organization that represents doctors in the province.

Unlike public health-care employers that are required to have essential service agreements in place, Dynacare’s labs are owned and run by a private, for-profit company, Moroz said.

The Essential Services Act requires employers involved in the delivery of health care services be regulated under The Health Services Insurance Act to enter into agreements that will enable the employer to continue to provide those services during a work stoppage.

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Except for hospital laboratories, Dynacare owns all facilities in Winnipeg that carry out services such as blood collection and urinalysis.

“The work that they do is absolutely essential and critical to the system,” the union president said. However “essential services legislation, as we see it, does not apply to private, for-profit employers,” Moroz said.

“If we do go on strike, all of our members will be on strike,” said Moroz.

“We don’t wish to go on strike. Our members really don’t wish to withdraw their services, but it’s critical to know that they’re at a point where they’re feeling taken advantage of and taken for granted by their employer,” Moroz said.

When asked if the company has a backup plan in the event workers go on strike, Dynacare spokesman Mark Bernhardt issued a statement Thursday.

“We respect our employees’ rights to organize and collectively bargain, and we will continue to work in partnership with their union as we work towards a timely resolution,”said the senior manager of corporate communications based in Brampton, Ont., in an email.

“Physicians and their patients rely on lab tests every day to diagnose and treat medical conditions… It is a vital and essential service to our health care system, and to the people of Manitoba.”

In their last contract, employees’ wages were frozen in line with the Progressive Conservative wage-freeze legislation that has since been repealed, Moroz said.

Now, after being at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 and getting slammed by the rising cost of living, the private lab employees expect a better deal, said Moroz.

“They gave us the strongest message that they possibly can that they are willing to stand up for themselves, stand up for what’s right and have the employer come back to the table and treat them with respect as the professionals that they all are,” he said.

On Thursday, Labour Minister Reg Helwer was asked what his government could do to prepare for a strike that would disrupt the delivery of health care for thousands of patients acorss the province.

Helwer deferred to Health Minister Audrey Gordon and Dynacare for comment.

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Dynacare employees in the province have been without a contract since April 1.

“We’re not the employer on that one,” Helwer said outside his office at the legislature Thursday. “The strike is a tool that unions use to negotiate,” he said.

“It’s up to Dynacare to deal with that particular issue. As one of our suppliers, we’ll certainly be dealing with Manitoba Health on what the options might be.”

The health minister failed to respond to a request for comment.

A statement issued by the province said it is “a private-sector collective bargaining process that does not involve government. Out of respect for both the company and the union, we will not comment on their private negotiations or offer speculation on any potential job action. No service disruption has occurred, and any additional comment now risks unduly impacting negotiations between the parties.”

The Progressive Conservative government has privatized a vital part of the health care system and put Manitobans at risk by doing so, said NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara.

“If we do go on strike, all of our members will be on strike.”

“Manitobans rely on this service, but the PCs put it at risk when they sold off lab testing and created a monopoly for Dynacare,” Asagwara said in an email. “Patients don’t need more uncertainty from a government that fights wage increases for health care workers every chance they get.”

Moroz said the union and the company have been negotiating since February.

Dynacare has nearly taken over medical laboratory testing outside of hospitals in Manitoba.

Since 2018, the Canadian arm of a giant global life sciences company has bought up all the private lab companies in Winnipeg.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

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In their last contract, employees’ wages were frozen in line with the Progressive Conservative wage-freeze legislation that has since been repealed.

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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