A union representing thousands of Winnipeg health-care workers has merged 20 of its local chapters for staff at facilities across the city into a single, 7,000-person collective.

Workers from the Canadian Union of Public Employees voted last year to form CUPE Local 204, bringing the locals from 20 health-care facilities together. The new collective includes workers at long-term care homes, community clinics, the Health Sciences Centre, and Grace, Concordia and Seven Oaks hospitals.

The union was approved by the labour board in December but officially launched on Wednesday afternoon, CUPE 204 president Debbie Boissoneault said.

"This new local came about with the government changes and the cuts happening," Boissoneault said. "CUPE 204 took 20 sites over the summer and the fall. We voted to merge into one, united together.

"You can have lots of little pockets speaking, but if you have one pocket speaking the message, I think it becomes stronger."

Last year, the Progressive Conservative government passed Bill 29, the Health Sector Bargaining Act, to reduce the number of health-care bargaining units in the province.

The bill hasn't been proclaimed yet, meaning it's not in effect. Once it is, it will cut 183 health-care bargaining units down to seven, substantially reducing the number of collective agreements or contracts with employees.

The bill outlines seven bargaining units organized by job description, including separate units for nurses, physicians, medical residents and physician assistants and clinical assistants.

Amy McGuinness, a spokesperson for Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen, said in a statement that the current number of bargaining units "adds significant administrative burdens."

She said, though, "as this legislation has yet to be proclaimed, it would not be appropriate to speculate about the future of individual bargaining units."

Boissoneault said the CUPE amalgamation attains that goal, just not in the way outlined by the bill. CUPE wanted to get in front of the law with Local 204, she said.

"They're saying they want less contracts. They want less unions.… CUPE did this without taking people off the job," Boissoneault said.

"We literally did this on our own time, without disruption to the health-care system, and are willing to make one contract."

'We're very diverse'

Each site will have its own union representatives communicating with union leadership, Boissoneault said.

Workers are willing to collaborate to ensure staff from different types of facilities are all represented, she said.

"We're very diverse. Community clinics, they're different from hospitals, right? … But together we're willing to work as one to make the collective agreement be one. That could be a challenge, but we're working together."

Boissoneault said the union rallied at sites in Winnipeg where CUPE staff don't work, including St. Boniface, Misericordia and Victoria hospitals.

A spokesperson for the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union — which represents some health-care workers not represented by CUPE — told CBC News in an email it feels its own structure serves MGEU members well.

"The MGEU is confident in our ability to be a strong voice for health-care workers, and all our members across Manitoba," the spokesperson wrote.

CUPE 204 represents workers from the following health-care facilities and departments:

  • Bethania Mennonite Personal Care Home.
  • Concordia Hospital.
  • Golden West Centennial Lodge.
  • Klinic Community Health Centre.
  • Lions Personal Care Centre.
  • Luther Home.
  • Middlechurch Home of Winnipeg.
  • Mount Carmel Clinic.
  • Nine Circles Community Health Centre.
  • NorWest Co-op Community Health Centre.
  • Pembina Place Mennonite Personal Care Home.
  • Rehabilitation Centre for Children (physiotherapists, occupational therapists and other staff).
  • Seven Oaks General Hospital.
  • Sexuality Education Resource Centre Manitoba.
  • St. Joseph's Residence.
  • Grace Hospital.
  • Health Sciences Centre.
  • Winnipeg Regional Health Authority midwives.
  • Winnipeg Regional Health Authority Nutrition and Food Services — Regional Distribution Facility.
  • Women's Health Clinic.