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Yukon hospital workers hold strike vote, union says workload is main issue

Yukon Employees Union president Steve Geick says employees are burning out as their workload increases. 300 unionized hospital staff will vote Thursday on a strike mandate.

300 unionized hospital employees will vote Thursday whether to give union strike mandate

Yukon Employees Union president Steve Geick says hospital workers are burning out trying to cope with increasing workload. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Workers at Yukon's three hospitals are voting Thursday on whether to give their union a strike mandate.

The roughly 300 members of the Yukon Employees Union (YEU) do a range of jobs including kitchen, janitorial, maintenance and licensed practical nursing at the hospitals in Whitehorse, Watson Lake, and Dawson City.

They've been without a contract since August 2017, said YEU president Steve Geick.

Geick said they are about to go into a fifth round of bargaining with the Yukon Hospital Corporation, this time with the help of a federal mediator.

Geick said it was the Yukon Hospital Corporation that asked for assistance, through the federal mediation and conciliation service.  

The new emergency room at the Whitehorse hospital opened a year ago and is one of the causes of increased workload at the hospital, Geick says. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The negotiations are set for Feb. 14 and 15, Geick said, and they prompted the strike vote.

"We need a mandate going in," he said, "if the membership are agreeable to what's on the table now, then that's what we'll do.

"If the members give a strong strike mandate, then we'll see what happens at the bargaining table."

Geick says the main issue in the contract dispute is workload.

"So the hospital has increased services with the new [emergency ward]. They've done a rebuild," said Geick.

"They're looking at offering more service, which is great for Yukoners, except that they're not expanding staff. People are getting burnt out. They're leaving for other work."

The Watson Lake hospital is one of three hospitals operated by the publicly owned Yukon Hospital Corporation. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Geick said members will learn what's already on the table before casting their votes Thursday.

The results will be tallied either Friday or on Monday, he said.

Matt Davidson, spokesperson for the Yukon Hospital Corporation, said it is "committed to reaching an agreement, ideally at the bargaining table."

He said in the meantime, the "priority is to continue delivering safe and excellent care."

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