About 70 administrative employees at the B.C. Nurses’ Union went on strike Friday after their employer locked them out for an hour.

While there are disagreements about wages and post-retirement benefits, the main dispute between the two groups centers on how employees use their sick day benefits, according to both parties.

“Members want to use their sick time to take medical appointments and they want to remove that right entirely,” says David Black, president of MoveUP, the union that represents a portion of the nurses’ union’s staff members.

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Currently, union staff are entitled to two sick days per month, says Gary Fane, executive director of the B.C. Nurses’ Union. Staff can accumulate sick days throughout the year and, theoretically, can take 24 days off in December.

But, says Fane, chronic absenteeism and what he perceives as an abuse of the benefit has been a long-standing issue within the organization.

“Every day, four to five employees are absent. . . . They use the time for appointments, sick time, family leave,” he says. “That’s quite excessive and we want to remedy that by having sick time be limited to 15 days and out of [those days], they can use three for appointments.”

The issue is so contentious, MoveUP says, that after the administrative staff’s collective agreement expired in December 2015, the two groups have been unable to agree on new terms.

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“It’s very disappointing for us that the nurses portray themselves as a defender of health-care rights for all Canadians,” says Black. “And to see them turn around and deny those very same things they advocate for to their own employees is heartbreaking.”

The irony isn’t lost on Fane, who says that while the union recognizes the employees’ valuable work, it’s not willing to budge on its final proposed agreement.

“I have no clue on how long this will last, but they have our final offer,” he says. “We’re looking forward to welcoming them back when the strike is finished, but quite candidly . . . it’s not like a strike in health care where a patient can die. It’s serious but not life and death.”

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Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com