Looking back: founding HSA member wins big at end of rewarding career

The Report: February / March 1999 vol.19 num.6


In 1971, Pat Holisky was instrumental in the formation of HSA as aunion to represent the rights of paramedical professionals in the workplace. Twenty-eightyears later ... as she retires ... HSA was able to pay back a big debt of gratitude,with a significant settlement of a longstanding policy grievance.

Holisky was one of the many laboratory technologists affected by thebitter lab restructuring process at Vancouver Hospital during the past two years.Vancouver Hospital sought to eliminate most of the mid-grade levels for lab techs, andinstitute a greatly reduced classifications system.

Suddenly, Holisky found herself doing the job of a head tech but onlybeing paid at grade 3 ... fully two grades below what the union assessed she should bereceiving.

In January, HSA and Vancouver Hospital reached a settlement supportingthe position taken by Holisky and many other supervisory laboratory technologists atVancouver Hospital. -All areas of the lab are constantly changing, which makes it soimportant to have skilled people who are involved and interested in their fields ofstudy," Holinsky explains. -Theres always new instrumentation, and betterscientific understanding. And you cant treat people like theyremachines."

The settlement is particularly significant for Holisky as a retiringemployee. -All my severance and related payouts are based on my last yearssalary, so they had to recalculate and upgrade all my payouts," she said. -Thatwas a real plus. And my pension will be adjusted accordingly as well ... andthats money I will be getting for the rest of my life."

As a young laboratory technologist, Pat Holisky was drawn to thecomplex and specialized field of hematology. Even after a few months of a rich retiredlife, she brightens as she talks about her lifes work. -My first love ishematology," she says, -and especially hemostasis ... thats to do withcoagulation and blood clotting. Vancouver Hospital is a reference centre for BC, so allthe special and more complex hemophiliac cases come here for treatment. I love hematology... and if you really wanted to do complex and special work, Vancouver Hospital was theplace to go when I was starting out, and it still is."

Holisky is emphatic about the value of experienced health care workersand the service only they are able to provide. -Our cases werent just filenumbers to us," she said. -There are some hemophiliacs Ive known now forthirty years ... theyve grown from children into young men. I know them. Even inlarger organizations like Vancouver Hospital, the patients still have faces andnames."

She says laboratory workers ... including all the co-workers sheleft behind at VH ... cant be valued enough. -There are so many skilled andcommitted people at the VH lab," she said. -The laboratory is not just aprocessing plant. Its people. Its people taking care of people, and losingsight of that would be just terrible and unconscionable."

Holisky was the executive secretary of the BC branch of the CanadianSociety of Laboratory Technologists when, in 1971, talks began of forming a new union ofparamedical professionals. -It was clear that we needed to be unionized to negotiateeffectively for lab techs, and the other paramedical groups were all in the same situationwe were," she said.

-Im so proud of HSA. Its grown from an organizationset up and initially run by volunteers to a very well organized and respected union. Andcertainly in the beginning we had no idea that it would mature in the manner that ithas."

She said she is especially proud of HSAs legacy in enforcingwomens rights in the workplace. -I remember during the sixties in somelaboratories, men would be paid more than women would," she said.

Holisky added that she wanted HSA as a newly formed organization tohelp change employers attitudes towards women as workers. -The vast majority oflab and other hospital workers in the sixties and seventies were young women. The hospitalused to consider themselves lucky if a young woman stayed five years before gettingmarried and giving up her job to raise children. But this was changing and they needed torealize that.

-So I consider myself almost a new breed of woman," shelaughs, -Ive worked for 36 years without an interruption. Im probablyamong the first of my kind."