Friday, January 09, 2015

All you need is love (Musings on national blood supplier HR woes)

Updated: 11 Jan. 2015

January's blog derives from news about unionized employees of Canadian Blood Services in Ontario considering strike action and the public rancor that occurred between employer and employees. The strike is apparently off, as is often the case, but what happened bears comment.

Suspect no matter where you live, what your transfusion health profession, staffing issues in blog are relevant. Do you think your employer focuses on decreasing costs? Saves money by hiring less well educated and trained staff? Cares more about the bottom line than staff welfare? But spouts rhetoric to the contrary? Then this blog's for you.

The blog's title derives from a 1967 Beatles ditty, All you need is love

Disclosure: I worked for ~13 years as a medical technologist, supervisor, and clinical instructor for CBS's predecessor, Canadian Red Cross, before becoming an instructor in MLS, University of Alberta and since then have been hired by CBS as a consultant on many projects.
1. Ontario's CBS employees, belonging to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), claimed the CBS management wanted to lay off skilled health-care professionals and replace them with lower-paid workers:

2. The union wrote a letter to CBS staff about CBS's intention:
3. OPSEU published ads in 14 newspapers across Ontario and made videos that claimed that CBS's HR policies threatened the safety of Canada's blood system, as in the earlier AIDS/HCV tragedy:
4. CBS strikes back in the form of Ian Mumford, CBS's chief supply chain officer's e-mailed statement:
Be aware that I am a staunch union supporter, despite their shortcomings. Love Pete Seeger and all he stood for.

Was in a union as a tenured professor at University of Alberta. Yes, it was the Association of Academic Staff, but a union all the same. 

When I worked for Canadian Red Cross's Blood Transfusion Service (BTS) in Winnipeg, we worked ridiculous hours at low pay. When I mentioned staff couldn't continue to work long weekend shifts (~24 hrs) and whatever it took to process huge blood donor clinics, the medical director, a man I respected until then, kindly said the equivalent of, 'You can always quit. I'll be glad to supply a reference.'

Also, I believe that CBS has a policy to hire the cheapest possible staff, to train them for specific jobs, and claim they're 'safe' with documented competency assessment.

This is exemplified by CBS's 'donor care associates' program, approved by Health Canada:

Of course, CBS's 'cheapest staff' policy was vetted by Health Canada.  Why the cheapest possible? Because the federal government and its regulatory agency, HC, as well as the provincial governments responsible for Canada's healthcare system, are invested in reducing costs. I've blogged about this often.

And I well understand, but strongly disagree with, how public health and government employers under cost constraints prefer to hire casual and part-time staff. I lived it in the 1990s when the Alberta government cut ~40% from the laboratory medicine budget.

The result was massive lab technologist job losses, followed by years of casual and part-time employment, all so employers did not need to provide various staff benefits. Despicable. Also, many transfusion medicine experts lost jobs as transfusion services hired 'generalist' technologists who were supervised by fewer and fewer transfusion specialists.

Many transfusion medicine laboratories face succession planning issues as older transfusion specialists retire. The crunch may occur in 10-15 years when more and more specialists retire.

To me the OPSEU ads are over-the-top and do the cause more harm than good. CBS's hiring practices are NOT admirable. Hiring less well educated staff and training them on-the-job puts more of a burden on busy, well educated and trained staff. Hiring practices that lead to long-time staff being without benefits are despicable.

Indeed, current CBS HR policies create real potential safety issues, to say nothing of staff discontent and workplace resentment. I suspect nobs like CEO Graham Sher and chief supply chain officer Ian Mumford do not have a clue about how staff in the trenches feel. And maybe those earning mega-bucks don't even care. 

But to imply CBS hiring policies threaten the safety of the blood supply, like the HIV/AIDS and HCV tragedies of the 1980s and 1990s did, is nonsense. Such claims make it easy for CBS to dismiss real concerns about their business plans that put cost above all else.

And yes, Canada's blood system has morphed into a business, not healthcare. None more so than Canadian Blood Services. CBS is not patient-centred, it's cost-centred. And staff is one of its biggest cost-centres. CBS gets rid of staff without a thought. Indeed, CBS congratulates itself for how much it cuts costs on the backs of staff.

But, please, those concerned should analyse each CBS policy rationally. Its policies may be sh*t on many levels, but they're NOT equivalent to the 1980s AIDs tragedy. 
False arguments that make it easy for CBS to dismiss legitimate concerns don't help.

My career path with two major employers (blood supplier, university med lab science program) seems antiquated. [I don't count consulting because it's a hodgepodge of 'jobettes'.] In contrast, today's workers can expect many employers with little job security.  

But despite conflicts, I considered both employers my family. I loved the organizations and believed we were on the same side, wanting to help and serve others. Canadian Red Cross BTS is where I grew up, literally. Teaching transfusion science in MLS at the University of Alberta was the best transfusion-related teaching job in the world. Hands down!

Reading the CBS-OPSEU rancor, makes me glad I'm a dinosaur of sorts. Are such HR issues between national blood suppliers and staff relevant elsewhere around the globe? You tell me.

Always sorry to see animosity between union and employer (CBS) but I understand why. Yet to me, life is too short to be opponents. Surely, cooperating and understanding are better. My experience puts me on the union's side, despite its faults and hyperbole on blood safety. But I prefer cogent arguments to over-the-top claims, easily dismissed. 

Perhaps kumbaya, but I love this Beatles song:

  • All you need is love (Paul McCartney, Stewart, Joe Cocker [now deceased], and many rock n' roll legends, Party at the Palace, 2002)
My edits to Lennon-McCartney lyrics:
There's nothing you can do that can't be UNdone
Nothing you can sing that can't be UNsung
Nothing you can say that can't be UNsaid
But you can learn how to play the game
It's easy... Love is all you need. 
As always, comments are most welcome.


  1. Anonymous8:40 PM

    Good point: arguments need to be valid.
    My thought is that love is nice, but not all you need. Wonder how those in the trenches go about getting CBS higher-ups to care enough about them to listen to their concerns. Once that is accomplished, let the cooperation begin!

  2. Your point gets at the crux. How to get CBS nobs earning mega-$, who are poodles to their paymasters, to truly listen to those in trenches?

    Only ways I can think of are
    (1) To bring it to their attention on social media and hope their better nature kicks in
    (2) Transfusion professionals they respect and need speak up.

    Not hopeful.

    1. Anonymous9:30 AM

      Social media is proving to be a surprisingly effective strategy.

  3. Thanks, Anonymous. Social media can be effective. One issue is to know when to be reasonably respectful to effect change and when to use satire.