Workers at Island Pharmacy on Vancouver Island cast their ballots decidedly in favour of fairness when they organized with UFCW 1518 last week. About 50 pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, pharmacy assistants and POS receivers joined more than 21,000 British Columbians represented by UFCW 1518, the union of choice for workers in the community health, professional, retail and industrial sectors.
“This is a significant win for these workers,” comments organizer Keith Murdoch. But it wasn’t an easy win, he admits. “It was a long campaign with a number of hurdles to overcome. There’s one employer with nine different locations or kingdoms. It was a lot of work to get everyone on the same page and make an application.” There was a strong motivation to unionize, adds Murdoch, which made the organizing drive a success in the end. “There was a lot of concern over how employees were treated, and with workplace issues not being properly addressed.”
Employees like Katie Richardson, a pharmacy assistant compounder, were tired of seeing long term colleagues quit because of poor treatment. Richardson became a driving force of the organizing campaign and one of the reasons for its success. “We needed to make some positive changes to our work environment and fast,” recalls Richardson. “We were needlessly loosing amazing long term staff and people that I care about on a continual basis because they quit or got fired. There were many others that had one foot out the door but chose to stay primarily because they genuinely care about their colleagues and patients.”
Arbitrary terminations helped start a conversation about the need for job security and protection. And the employer’s failure to pay overtime led UFCW 1518 to file a third party complaint under the Employment Standards Act. “The employer was breaking basic labour law but there was so much fear about losing jobs that people tolerated the violations,” says Murdoch. “Despite raising their concerns, the overtime issue was never resolved until we came along. We filed our complaint and a few weeks, employees started receiving overtime pay for the first time.”
Murdoch expects negotiations to begin soon, with wages and benefits being the focal point. “These workers have been through a lot. But now they have a union. And we’re going to start fixing these problems.”