By Marco Procaccini
Dental technicians and support staff are not likely the first group of workers that come to mind when thinking about Teamster members.
The Local 213 members at Fine Arts Dental Lab in East Vancouver are doing their best to hold onto their jobs in a rapidly changing industry with a not-so promising future, said Chief Shop Steward Jim Lipkovits. They have ratified a new deal with their employer that avoids concessions.
“We gave up one floating holiday, but everything else is pretty much the same,” Lipkovits said. “We got the best deal we could to survive,” said Lipkovits.
Local 213 Business Representative Phil Clelland, who helped the workers negotiate their latest collective agreement, said much of the negotiation over the past two years has involved the workers and their union rep advising the company about poor business decisions. But their persistence helped keep the lab in operation and won them a no-contracting-out clause in their new agreement—a major breakthrough over the last few turbulent years.
Dental labs make dentures, partials, bridges, and crowns for dental clinics. Although still earning an hourly rate of between $23 and $35/hour, the union staff is down to 8, the lowest number in the lab’s over 50 years of operation, down from an average of 35.
Lipkovits and Clelland said the union presence has also acted as an anchor to keep the company together and in business.
Lipkovits said, “We recently held an emergency staff meeting with the woman who was in charge of the lab. She was crying because she had laid off over three-quarters of the staff and now there aren’t enough people to do the work. They are having to contract out extra work, which just takes more time and slows things down.”
Another long-term challenge is confronting not only the Local 213 members, but dental technicians around the world: automation technology in the form of 3-D printing. Equipment is now available to allow dental clinics to produce their own dentures and other dental prosthetics on-site.
Lipkovits said, “Soon you’ll be able to go to the dentist and get your x-rays done, and get casted and fitted with a denture right in the office in half the time.”
Clelland said that the local union will do what it can to find work for former lab technicians when the new technology becomes available, but the net job losses and lower pay will be huge factors to overcome.