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Local Lifelabs employees protest over wages, staff shortages

'LifeLabs, their employer, has decided to give a pandemic premium lump sum to every single worker at LifeLabs across the province except the group here,' said local official

A Friday morning protest outside the Barrie constituency office of a local MPP had one union group upset and the Ministry of Labour confused about why they were there in the first place.

Members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 389 were protesting what they say is unfair pay and a lack of bonuses, which would lead to problems recruiting new staff.

Sara Labelle, the regional vice-president for the area that includes Barrie, said the staff members she represents were being cut out from the bonuses that many others received for working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The laboratory professionals that work for LifeLabs in Simcoe County have been working throughout this pandemic, and even prior to it, with extremely short staffing,” Labelle said. “They were not included in the pandemic premium when the government announced that they had to fight to get access to proper safety equipment.

"Now LifeLabs, their employer, has decided to give a pandemic premium lump sum to every single worker at LifeLabs across the province except the group here," she added. 

Labelle said she believes the reason the group of Simcoe County workers aren’t receiving the bonuses and equal pay is because “they are unionized and decided a few years ago that they would join a union so that they would have better working conditions and have a voice in the workplace and this is a way to penalize the workers."  

Labelle also said LifeLabs is not paying the area’s workers the same as other areas 

“The other thing they’ve done is knocked the lowest step off the wage grid for all of the workers across the province, which would ultimately give the group here a living wage. But they’re refusing to do it here in Simcoe County,” she said.

“A living wage in Simcoe County is $19 and if they eliminated that bottom step for this group like they did for everyone across the province, that would help them do that (acquire the living wage)," Labelle added. 

When contacted for comment, Lifelabs said it works with the local bargaining unit which negotiates the terms and conditions for their bargaining members through the collective bargaining process.

“LifeLabs respects the terms of the collective agreement negotiated with OPSEU Local 389 in January 2021,” stated an email from the LifeLabs media team. “Any additional terms and agreements would have to be negotiated as part of the collective agreement, as we have successfully done with other union partners.

"We are committed to continuing our work with our union partners through the union’s process," the email stated. 

LifeLabs also says it remains committed to minimizing any potential disruption to the testing needs in its communities.

A representative from the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development said: “As (LifeLabs) is a private business, your questions about employee pay would be better directed to them.”

In a phone interview earlier in the day, a ministry spokesperson said if the group has issues with staff shortages and working during the pandemic, their concerns could then become a ministry issue and they should file a complaint.

“If they made a complaint to the ministry of labour, we would have responded and investigated that," said the spokesperson. "I don’t know if they have or not and that wouldn't be able to be verified today. It still wouldn’t explain why they were protesting in front of the MPP’s office.”