Workers from 13 community social services agencies will be off the job today in their largest job action since rotating strikes began two months ago.
The workers will strike at Centennial Square between Douglas and Government streets in Victoria between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., with a rally at noon. They are staging a rally rather than strike at their workplaces because many are residential group homes. The workers will serve hot food and distribute warm clothing to those in need.
The rally is the culmination of two months of rotating job action after talks broke off. “There’s no word of getting back at this point,” said Bob Wilson, of the Hospital Employees union.
But Social Development Minister Moira Stilwell said she remains hopeful that the two sides can reach a negotiated settlement.
“Currently, almost half of the people working in B.C.’s public sector now have tentative or ratified agreements settled under the 2012 cooperative gains mandate,” she said.
“Essential services levels are in place to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people who may be affected by any strike action taken by the union as they depend on the support provided by employees in the social services sector.”
The unionized workers’ job descriptions range from maintenance workers and speech pathologists to registered nurses and drug and alcohol counsellors.
“The services we’re talking about support healthy communities,” Wilson said. “We have to fund and pay these workers a decent wage.”
The unions claim the community social services workers are amongst the lowest paid in the public sector with a starting wage of $15.54 an hour which they say is lower than the starting wage of $16.83 in 2002. The top wage in 2002 was $16.83 and has gone up to $18.27.
“Especially in these times you need qualified workers in this sector,” Wilson said. “These are wages that people cannot even live on.”
About 60 per cent of the sector is under the community living umbrella dealing with mentally and physically disabled adults and children who live in residential group homes. The other 40 per cent serve mostly womens’ services, immigration services, crisis lines, childcare and transition houses.
The workers are looking for a wage increase of about two per cent a year over two years, a reinstatement of sick time privileges lost in bargaining concessions in 2004, and portable seniority when moving to different agencies within the same community social services umbrella, said Wilson, a spokesman for the bargaining group.
“This group took huge concessions in 2004 - $40 million in concessions - and has never achieved any of that back,” Wilson said.
Agencies being target with the job action include the Victoria Women’s Transition House Society, Community Living Victoria, Victoria Women’s Sexual Assault Centre and the Garth Homer Society. Essential services levels will be maintained where required.
There are 15,000 unionized workers in the community social services sector represented by B.C. Government Employees’ Union, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Hospital Employees’ Union, Health Services Association and six other unions, which together make up the Community Social Services Bargaining Association.
The agencies being targeted in the job action are:
• Victoria Women's
• Transition House Society (HSA)
• Becon Support Services (HEU), Community
• Living Victoria (HEU)
• Crossroads Human Services (HEU),
• Victoria Women's Sexual Assault Centre (BCGEU)
• Independent Living Housing Society (HEU)
• Integra Support Services (HEU)
•Kardel Consulting Services (HEU)
• Kjosa Community Living (HEU)
•Garth Homer Society (BCGEU)
•Autistic Homes Society (HEU)
•Victoria Community Resources Society (HEU)
•Western Human Resources(HEU)
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