A pending strike by unionized workers at DynaLIFE labs in Edmonton and northern Alberta has been postponed and possibly averted after the province announced Tuesday it has appointed a disputes inquiry board to help reach a settlement.
The provincial government felt it had no choice but to intervene, Employment and Immigration spokesman Barrie Harrison said.
"We feel that this is an important dispute in which the stakes are high. There's potential significant disruption to Alberta's health-care sector," he said.
The board has one member — veteran labour arbitrator John Moreau and a strike or lockout is prohibited while he does his work.
If an agreement isn't reached by Sept. 25, Moreau will make recommendations for a settlement to Health Minister Ron Liepert, which are binding if they are accepted by the union and DynaLIFE. If either side rejects the recommendations, a strike or lockout could still occur.
"I wish I could say that we were surprised — which we're not — and I wish that I could say that we were happy — which we're not," said Elisabeth Ballermann, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the union that represents the 912 workers.
Ballermann doesn't believe the process is going to help resolve the dispute.
"Unfortunately … we're not confident that it is going to lead to the settlement that we need," she said.
On Monday, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta announced it had served DynaLIFE with a 72-hour strike notice. The workers — including lab technicians and assistants — would have been off the job at 6 a.m. Friday at nine locations in Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Fort Vermillion, High Level, La Crete, Sherwood Park and St. Albert.
Since the base laboratory in Edmonton was among the locations set to go on strike, there were fears all medical testing could be brought to a standstill.
DynaLIFE workers want their wages and benefits to be on par with other laboratory workers in Alberta.
The company says its offer is fair and competitive. DynaLIFE is offering a boost in wages, benefits and retirement benefits, which adds up to a 20 per cent raise over two years in total compensation, the company's chief operating officer, Jason Pincock, said.