Community social services strike escalates to Kootenays

News release

joint release of BCGEU, CUPE, HEU and HSA

The three-week old job action to end wage and benefit discrimination for workers in the community social services sector escalated this morning to the Kootenays.

Members of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) are on strike at Nelson Community Services Centre and Salmo Community Resources Centre. Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) are on strike at Nelson & District Community Resources Society, Kootenay Society for Community Living (Castlegar), Trail Association for Community Living, and Endicott Centre (Creston). Over 200 workers are involved in the job action.

"We had hoped by now that instead of escalating job action, we'd be back at the bargaining table with the Community Social Services Employers' Association addressing wage and benefit discrimination for workers in this sector.

Regrettably, the government is still refusing to give its negotiators the mandate they need to settle this dispute fairly," said Cliff Andstein, chief negotiator for the BCGEU.

Andstein said job action will continue to escalate to targeted areas of the province for as long as it takes to get a fair contract for the 10,000 workers in this sector.

"Community social services workers have been underpaid and undervalued for too long," Andstein said. "In the community living sector, for example, where union members are on strike today in the Kootenays, workers make it possible for people with physical or developmental disabilities to live with dignity and respect in their own communities.

"The care provided by our members enable thousands of British Columbians to live independent, quality lives. They hold jobs, get married, have children, live in homes - not institutions - in their own communities. For many of them, it's the difference between day and night, life and death. And yet, none of this would be possible without community social services workers."

Andstein said it's up to the government to bring an end to the strike by making good on its promises to these low-paid workers. "It's outrageous that community social services workers - who are mostly women - earn up to $8 an hour less and have fewer benefits than workers in other sectors who do the same or similar work. This wage and benefit discrimination must end."

Job action on Wednesday, March 24 and Thursday, March 25, will target Vancouver Island, including Victoria, Nanaimo and Port Alberni.

The workers are employed in four sectors: community living, family and children's services, services to women and child care. The BCGEU represents 6,500 workers in the sector; CUPE, 2,300; HEU, 850; and HSA, 800.