Natalie North, Saanich News, October 31, 2012Social service workers in Greater Victoria were the latest to take part in a provincewide rotating strike in an attempt to gain higher wages and improved working conditions.
Picket lines were up at Community Living Victoria in Saanich on Tuesday, while members of the Hospital Employees’ Union at day programs at Crossroads Human Services in Langford and Kardel Consulting Services in Vic West were also off the job.
Staff maintained essential service levels and the job action didn't affect residential care homes. The day programs affected related to independent living and employment counselling.
The groups that picketed are two of 10 social services employees unions which comprise the 15,000-member-strong Community Social Services Bargaining Association. The association includes members of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the HEU.
“They’ve been at the bargaining table almost constantly for three years, including since February of this year and at this point, six-to-eight months later, (the Community Social Services Employers’ Association) haven’t even made a wage offer,” said Bob Wilson, HEU bargaining spokesperson.
In 2002, the starting wage for a front-line worker in the sector, such as a group home worker who is responsible for cooking and providing nursing care, was $16.83 per hour. Today the wage sits at $15.54. The association is asking for a three per cent wage increase each year – about $20 more each week for full-time workers – for a total six per cent over the course of the two-year contract.
“(Community Social Services employees) figure they’ve given back enough over the last 10 years and it’s time for them to receive a fair wage increase for what they do,” Wilson said. “They have a lot of families’ support in this because the whole sector is underfunded … We feel we have some catching up to do.”
“They have made no offer at this point, eight months into the negotiation,” Wilson said.
Gentil Mateus, chief executive officer of the Community Social Service Employers’ Association, said so far the bargaining process has been respectful and constructive, despite making little headway on the top issue of wages.
“The challenge we face under the mandate any money that’s generated for wage increases has to come from savings or efficiencies from within the sector," Mateus said. "That’s very challenging for this sector because unlike the majority of other sectors, we realized most of our efficiencies in 2003."
While wages are the No. 1 concern, the unions hope to settle other concessions, such as the ability to transfer between agencies and maintain seniority in an effort to retain qualified workers, Wilson noted.
“If government put $25 to $30 million on the table, we’d have a deal next week,” he said. “Even though compared to a lot of the bargaining going on, 15,000 is a fairly small sector, we feel this group deserves more than the others.”
“Some wage increases are possible. The question is how much and where’s the money going to come from?” he said.
Cuts to benefits and savings generated through work safety related costs may be the source of additional funds, Mateus said.
Rotating strikes began last week and will continue throughout the province in the days to come.
Health Sciences Association of BC
Community social services professionals at three agencies that support children and adults with developmental disabilities and provide numerous other community services will be on strike tomorrow in Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam. Striking workers will be protesting outside BC MLA Douglas Horne's office at 130 Brew Street, Port Moody on Thursday, November 1 from 10:30am to 1pm. Their message to the BC Liberal government: stop putting vulnerable families last!
Since 2004, the BC Liberal government has slashed $300 million in funding for programs that support the developmentally disabled, vulnerable women, at-risk youth, and children and infants in community-based programs across the province.
The following Tri-Cities not-for profit community agencies will be on strike and behind picket lines tomorrow:
SHARE Family & Community Services Society -- 25 King Edward Street, Coquitlam, BC - is a non-profit community based organization providing programs in response to the social needs of the residents of the Tri-Cities, New Westminster and adjacent communities. These workers are represented by the Health Sciences Association of BC (HSA).
On Nov 1, HSA members should gather at job action headquarters at 9:30am:Community Integration Services Society - 2175 Mary Hill Road, Port Coquitlam, BC - offers day programs for adults with developmental disabilities and mental health issues. The 40 CISS life skill workers at CISS are members of the BC Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU).
2145 Mary Hill Road, Port Coquitlam
Job action HQ phone: 604.833.2894
You must sign in at job action headquarters to receive job action pay.
Community Ventures Society - #200 - 1024 Ridgeway Ave., Coquitlam, BC -- supports children and adults with developmental disabilities. CVS workers are represented by CUPE BC.
Picket lines will be up at CLV -- 3861 Cedar Hill Cross Road -- from 8am until 5pm.
Community social service workers have faced a decade of declining wages. The current starting wage for a residential care worker is $15.54 an hour. In 2002, it was $16.83. Factoring in inflation, that's a 22 percent wage cut.
There are 15,000 unionized workers in the community social services sector, represented by BCGEU, HSA, CUPE, HEU, and five other unions, which together make up the Community Social Services Bargaining Association.
Essential services levels are being maintained.