British Columbia’s 15,000 community social services workers have given their unions a strike mandate, the union representing many of the workers announced on July 23.
B.C. community social service workers provide services to people with physical or developmental disabilities, as well as provide support to First Nations in the province.
"Our members have given their bargaining committee the strong strike mandate it needs," says B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) president Darryl Walker. “That should send a clear message to the provincial government that these members are prepared to stand up for a fair and reasonable settlement.”
Negotiations broke down on June 7 between the province, employers and the 10 unions representing the community social services workers. Strike votes began on June 12 and were scheduled to conclude at the end of the month.
Unionized workers in general services have voted 85 per cent in favour of strike action, while members in community living services voted 90 per cent in favour of striking.
The main issues in the dispute are wage increases and improved benefits. The B.C. government continues to operate under a “co-operative gains” mandate. That is, if savings or increased revenue can be found somewhere else within the sector, wages can go up.
However, the unions continue to ask for increased wages, arguing community social service workers are the lowest paid workers in the broader public sector. They are also looking for improvements to benefits, sick leave and reimbursable expenses.
"We are asking for a fair and reasonable deal, one that reflects the important work our members do," says James Cavalluzzo, chair of the multi-union bargaining association known as the Community Social Services Bargaining Association (CSSBA). “Up until now, the provincial government has had nothing to offer the caring professionals in community social services. Our members cannot keep falling behind.”
In the event of a strike, essential service agreements would be in place to protect clients served by community social service workers, including youth at risk and people with development disabilities, Cavaluzzo said in an earlier statement.
The unions in the CSSBA are the BCGEU, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Hospital Employees’ Union, the Health Sciences Association of B.C., the United Steelworkers, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union, the Christian Labour Association of Canada, the Service Employees International Union and the British Columbia Nurses’ Union.
The provincial government's Community Social Services Employers' Association (CSSEA) represents 220 agencies in the sector.
The CSSEA hasn’t commented on the strike mandate.