Dynalife contract talks break down as Calgarians continue to wait for lab services

The union representing lab workers is calling on Dynalife to return to the bargaining table after contract talks have stalled.

The Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), which represents two agreements of around 1,200 members each, said they’re at an impasse on getting the same pay for the same work after a year of negotiations.

“When you privatized the lab service and moved our Alberta Precision Lab workers into Dynalife, we now have two separate working agreements. One is 10 per cent less than the other and we’ve asked Dynalife to equate these two agreements,” Mike Parker, HSAA president, said Thursday.

“They want to go one way. I will not and we will not, as a union, support a race to the bottom for wages.”

Read more: DynaLIFE vows to fix problems plaguing Albertans waiting for lab tests

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Parker said the company hasn’t proposed any further contract negotiations date and the parties are headed towards an essential service agreement discussion, “which means we are being forced into a job action position by this employer.”

The HSAA also noted there appears to be 200 vacancies in the company, putting added pressure on the existing workforce.

Dates have been selected for ESA bargaining, a step towards formal mediation.

“Dynalife is committed to reaching a collective agreement with HSAA which is in the best interest of our staff and Albertans,” the company said in a statement.

“As part of these negotiations, wages, term, and pension are under discussion as there are differences in these provisions between existing Dynalife employees and the employees Dynalife acquired from APL (Alberta Precision Laboratories) as part of the transition of community lab services from APL to Dynalife.”

Click to play video: 'Dynalife CEO says more changes coming to improve services in Calgary'

Dynalife CEO says more changes coming to improve services in Calgary

An ‘innovative solution’ gone long

Dynalife’s shares are owned by OMERS, a municipal employee pension plan from Ontario, and LabCorp, a North Carolina-based healthcare company, with OMERS holding 56.6 per cent of shares.

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On Dec. 5, 2022, a contract with the Alberta government expanded Dynalife’s lab services from just the capital region and northern Alberta to provincewide.

In the June 2, 2022, announcement, Health Minister Jason Copping called the expansion an “innovative solution” for the long term of lab services in the province.

“This agreement expands capacity and saves Albertans money while securing the existing jobs of all our lab workers,” Copping said in a statement at the time.

Read more: ‘Welcome to private health care’: Calgarians experience delays at community labs

Since December, Calgarians have complained about longer waits for lab services for potentially life-saving treatments.

Leslie Boyer was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation less than a year ago, putting her at increased risk of blood clots.

“When I was first in the emergency room, the doctor, the cardiologist came in and said, ‘Do you have a will or a care plan?’” the former nurse’s aide said. “I was like, ‘Oh, man, this is serious.’”

She was told of the two courses of treatment, medication was better suited for her. But that would require regular testing of the performance of her kidneys.

Click to play video: 'Alberta Health Services apologizes for long wait times at Calgary labs'

Alberta Health Services apologizes for long wait times at Calgary labs

“(The nurse) told me in the beginning it would take six months to a year to correct this issue. So it is reversible,” Boyer said, adding she found hope in the possibility of treatment.

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“When I first went in to get bloodwork done, I had to wait three weeks to get the blood work done. So that put me back in my recovery.”

A subsequent call in mid-March to book bloodwork revealed all of the labs in Calgary were booked for the entirety of April.

The nurse guiding Boyer on her treatment advised her that Dynalife had taken over lab services.

‘No walk-ins for the entire day’

“Before this, I didn’t have any issues. I could do a walk in. It may take me a half an hour, an hour.”

She even tried showing up at the lab at the Sheldon Chumir Centre first thing in the morning, where she was met by a lineup out the door at 7:20 a.m. and a sign “No walk-ins for the entire day.”

More time between bloodwork means Boyer’s recovery could take two to three times as long as previously thought.

“I just don’t understand. If the system wasn’t broken, why fix it? Like, if everything was working before, why are they doing this?” she said.

Click to play video: '‘A step too far’: Alberta woman raises concern over newly privatized lab tests'

‘A step too far’: Alberta woman raises concern over newly privatized lab tests

The private market has come in to fill in some of the gaps.

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Tap Labs is a mobile and on-demand laboratory services company in Calgary. CEO Kelly Kuzel said with six full time lab technicians and a supplementation of contract lab techs, they’ve been averaging between 20 and 30 appointments per day.

But in the last three months, they’ve seen a three-fold increase in their blood collection business.

Read more: ‘A step too far’: Alberta woman raises concern over newly-privatized lab tests

“I think a lot of people are frustrated with the current wait times and in some cases they need to get bloodwork done quickly to support the diagnosis or treatment pathway for various illnesses. And so they need to get their results back to their doctor quickly,” Kuzel said.

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According to the Tap Labs website, Kuzel was inspired to start the company after facing waits on bloodwork she needed to be done.

Their blood and urine collection services start at $85.

A predictable problem in privatization

The Opposition said the effects of increased wait times for lab services was predictable and should have been planned for in the years of negotiations that preceded the December transfer to Dynalife.

“Despite the UCP’s promises that Dynalife would provide more timely access to care and a more stable workforce, that has clearly not been the case,” Edmonton-Centre MLA David Shepherd said. “This has clearly not been the smooth transition that was promised.”

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Click to play video: 'Alberta Health Services network outage leads to postponed surgeries, lab work'

Alberta Health Services network outage leads to postponed surgeries, lab work

On Wednesday, Dynalife CEO Jason Pincock acknowledged there is a “challenge” in booking times for services like bloodwork but pledged they were working on solutions.

“What we’re seeing in Calgary is not normal.”

The Alberta NDP health critic questioned whether Alberta Health Services, Alberta Precision Laboratories and Dynalife will be able to expand access to community lab services in the Calgary zone given the stalled contract talks and the pandemic-induced healthcare worker shortage.

Read more: ‘Welcome to private health care’: Calgarians experience delays at community labs

“If Dynalife is at a point where they are looking at going to war with their workers, unable to negotiate fair pay for all workers doing the same work, I fail to see how we’re going to be able to increase capacity in the system,” he said.

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Global News reached out to the health minister for comment.

Boyer expressed frustration at the apparent degradation in lab services.

“I’m a Canadian. Medicare is guaranteed to me, apparently. But except for in this case,” she said.

And the prospect of having to turn to private healthcare companies was unfavourable given the country’s legacy of medicare.

“It seems like then you’re going to have the haves and have nots,” Boyer said. “It seems kind of unfair if you’re going to have somebody who, just because they have money, can access something a little quicker.”

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