by Phil Ambroziak

The line of patients that normally forms outside the clinic in downtown Meadow Lake each day could soon be replaced by a picket line if a compromise cannot be reached between employees and management.

Earlier this year, it was reported more than 20 employees at the Meadow Lake Primary Health Care Centre located at 218 Centre St. were on the verge of strike action. According to officials with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), clinic staff have been without a collective agreement since 2013 and, even though they work in the health care industry, they do not have access to health care benefits.

“It’s still an ongoing process right now,” explained SEIU-West vice-president Neil Colmin, who was in Meadow Lake Friday for an SEIU fundraising barbecue. “I’m not at liberty to discuss a lot of it, but we have settled some areas. At least we now know where to focus. There was a discussion as to what union this local should actually belong to. We worked the process through with the labour relations board and we are presently working on an essential services agreement and some other things. I know they’ve had offers, but it will be up to the membership to decide the direction to take.”

In spite of his optimism, Colmin went on to say negotiations may be reaching an impasse.

“One of the big sticking points is the clinic members have been asking for benefits,” he explained. “One of the offers provided to them were health benefits, however, what they were going to do then was take away any raises they would have for the next three years. That was the last offer that’s been on the table.”

This was reiterated in a leaflet SEIU-West members distributed during last week’s barbecue. According to the employees, health care benefits were offered but wages would have been slashed.

“I want fair wages and benefits because I shouldn’t have to choose between buying my child’s medicine, my groceries or my rent,” noted clinic worker Bonnie Schwingenschloegl.

Last year, PNRHA assumed operations at the clinic, a facility that was managed by local physicians. The clinic downtown was owned by Dr. Jake Letkeman, Dr. Merv Johnson and Dr. Peter Kapusta and, while other doctors worked there, no one else ever bought in. A spokesperson for PNRHA could not be reached for comment by press time.