The unions representing Canadian Blood Services workers in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia say employees in those provinces are working harder to make up for the lack of donations from P.E.I.

Eleven part-time Canadian Blood Services workers on P.E.I. went on strike in September, which means there haven't been any blood clinics in the province since then. The Island workers are on strike because they want a guaranteed minimum number of hours in order to keep their benefits. 

"The affect that I'm being told by the front line service workers is that the clinics that we are operating with right now are being over capacity. Quite simply they're trying to jam more donors than normal into our clinics," said Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) national representative Mike Davidson, who represents workers in New Brunswick.

"I think that there's direct correlation that we are picking up the slack where P.E.I. no longer collects any blood products ... The demand for blood is still there, but there's now a downloading of responsibility on those who are left to do more with less and of course it's creating a lot of strain on the system and for its employees as well."

Nancy Wheaton

Nancy Wheaton, past president of NSUPE Local 12 which represents CBS workers in Halifax, said the strike is taking a toll. (Supplied photo)

The Nova Scotia Union of Public and Private Employees (NSUPE) said its workers have also been booking more appointments in the past seven months. 

"They have a template and they're supposed to book so many in that template and according to my members, they have been overbooking," said Nancy Wheaton, past president of NSUPE Local 12, which represents blood services workers in Halifax. Wheaton just recently stepped down as president in March and is still a member of the union. 

"They're actually working longer hours. They're exhausted from the overbooking," said Wheaton. 

Hours, beds added at N.S. clinics

Hours and beds have been added at eight mobile clinics in Nova Scotia to increase volume said Peter MacDonald, director of donor relations for Canadian Blood Services in Atlantic Canada. No extra beds have been added in New Brunswick this year. 

'They're actually working longer hours. They're exhausted from the overbooking.' — Nancy Wheaton, Past President, NSUPE Local 12 

"I think that adding an hour or the appropriate beds to a clinic is, we're properly staffed for those," said MacDonald. He said appointments are not added without adding capacity because CBS wants to ensure a positive experience for donors. "Our folks may be working some more hours, but we're not, I don't think we're at a point where we're overworking the staff by any stretch."

MacDonald said the additional effort in other provinces hasn't offset the entire supply that would have come from P.E.I., but stressed CBS is meeting hospital demand and there's been no impact for patients.

CBS has been able to supply P.E.I. through the national inventory because blood products are moved across the country from site to site as needed according to MacDonald.

'Not enough time allotted'

Wheaton said it's not just taking a toll on Canadian Blood Services workers, but on blood donors as well.

"We have had an increase in call out for donors. We've also had an increase in donors, according to the staff at Canadian Blood Services Halifax," said Wheaton.

"They have been really, really upset about overbooking appointments ... and not enough time allotted for these donors." 

She said employees have been working through their breaks trying to fit all the donors in.

When Halifax workers were on strike about 11 years ago, she said, other provinces put out calls for blood donations to make up for the difference. 

P.E.I. strike not main factor, says CBS

MacDonald said workers in the other Maritime provinces are working harder, but said it's mostly because of other factors. He said there are three things driving more collections this year compared to last.

MacDonald said last year clinics were cancelled because of terrible weather. Secondly he said the strategy across the country is to grow collections at permanent sites, and thirdly for contingency planning —  extra beds or hours are added at well-performing clinics to make up for any extra demand when events happen such as the flood in Calgary or the labour disruption on P.E.I.    

"Our folks in the other parts of the Maritimes are working harder while we have a labour disruption in Prince Edward Island, but I don't think the main contributing factor is necessarily the P.E.I. strike," said MacDonald. 


Blood by the numbers

More blood was collected at N.S. and N.B. clinics in January 2016 (when the P.E.I. strike was on) compared to last January when P.E.I. blood services workers were on the job, according to Canadian Blood Services documents obtained by CBC.

Blood collected in N.S.

  • Jan. 2015: 2,700 units at 53 clinics.
  • Jan. 2016: 2,877 units at 45 clinics.

Blood collected in N.B.

  • Jan. 2015: 2,169 units at 59 clinics.
  • Jan. 2016: 2,385 units at 48 clinics.

P.E.I. workers say they are a factor

"We do feel that we absolutely do contribute to the blood supply and it's a shame that this clinic has been sitting empty for the last almost seven months," said Lisa Rusk, one of the P.E.I. workers on strike. 

Rusk estimates about 7,840 appointments have been missed since the strike started in September. 

Lisa Rusk

Lisa Rusk is one of the P.E.I. Canadian Blood Services workers who has been on strike since September 2015. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Rusk said the P.E.I. employees feel it's unfair that other workers in the Maritimes are working harder, but says they may be laying the groundwork for workers in those provinces who may face the same issues in the future. 

Unions support striking P.E.I. workers

The unions in both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia say they support the striking P.E.I. workers.

"The same thing that P.E.I. is going through right now is probably going to happen in March or April for us," said Wheaton. 

"We have two bargaining units that are quite simply a step away from possible strike action here in New Brunswick," said Davidson. 

MacDonald said its CBS's policy to not comment on things being discussed at the bargaining table. He said the line of communications is open between CBS and the P.E.I. blood services workers.