Employers invite confrontation with heavy-handed attempt to wipe out existing collective agreements

News release

Community Social Services Union Bargaining Association

Unnecessary confrontation and chaos for vulnerable children and adults will be the inevitable result if employers succeed in a surprising and heavy-handed attempt to strip community social service workers of their collective agreements, the leaders of British Columbia’s largest unions warned today.

The Community Social Services Employers’ Association (CSSEA), acting on behalf of 215 employers in the sector, late yesterday filed an application asking the Labour Relations Board to throw out existing collective agreements, and thereby free the employers to unilaterally impose terms of employment.

“This is a continuation of the contract-breaking the government began with Bill 29, and continued with Bill 94. It is an outrageous move to try to strip away contracts that have been in place for up to 30 years,” said George Heyman, President of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union.

“I call on the ministers responsible — Gordon Hogg and Graham Bruce — to instruct CSSEA to withdraw this application and return to the bargaining table. If the government fails to do that, if it supports this outrageous action, then what we have is a guaranteed recipe for unnecessary confrontation and disruption in services to vulnerable children and adults,” he said.

Earlier this year, Labour Minister Bruce brought in legislation to force 13 unions in the community social services sector to bargain together as a new association of unions at one table with CSSEA. CSSEA is now claiming that the creation of the new association means the existing contracts with individual unions are invalid. At the same time, Gordon Hogg’s ministry of children and family development is demanding a $35 million cut in compensation to the workers.

“CSSEA and the government are making a terrible mistake. This is just going to create chaos and do nothing to improve services to women, children, families and people with disabilities,” said Barry O’Neill, president of CUPE BC, the province’s largest union. “It’s mean spirited and petty.”

“The workers are angry and frustrated at dealing with an employer who wants to ram a contract down their throat without negotiating. CUPE BC is behind these social services workers all the way.”

“What can this employer possibly hope to achieve by poisoning the workplace and throwing into chaos the very services our most vulnerable citizens rely on,” asked Chris Allnutt, secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees’ Union.

“This action shows nothing but contempt for front-line workers and the people they support,” he said.

“This isn't just an attack on the hard-working and dedicated women and men delivering these services. It's an attack on the vulnerable members of our communities who rely on those services,” said Cindy Stewart, President of the Health Sciences Association.

“Children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities, suicidal teens, women fleeing violent situations — every single one of them needs to be supported,” she said.

“It is an outrage for these employers and the government to continue their attack on the people who provide services to the most fragile and vulnerable in our society. This action on the part of the employer is absolutely unconscionable,” said Brooke Sundin, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1518.

“There is no defense or reason for such an attack. The solution to this situation is not legal trickery, as the employers would have it, but collective bargaining.”

“This is a terrible attack on workers and vulnerable people,” said Ken Neumann, Director, Steelworkers District 3. “It is a gutless attempt to avoid bargaining. It’s almost inconceivable that the employers’ association would pull a stunt like this.”

“I’m very concerned about the potential impact on clients,” said Debra McPherson, President of the B.C. Nurses’ Union. “Continuity of care is very important for many of these children and adults. I don’t understand why the employers would deliberately provoke a fight in this sector.”

The 13 unions in the community social services sector represent approximately 15,000 workers, many of them part time. More than 200 employers are involved in the current round of bargaining. For most workers in this sector, including many with university degrees, the annual salary is approximately $33,000.

The workers provide services for thousands of vulnerable people and families, including children and adults with mental and developmental disabilities, women fleeing from abuse, and at-risk young people.

-30- Further information: Soren Bech, B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, 604 291-9611 Mark Veerkamp, Canadian Union of Public Employees - BC, 604 291-1940 or 604 790-3352 Patty Gibson, Hospital Employees Union (CUPE), 604 438-5000 Miriam Sobrino, Health Sciences Association, 604 439-0994 Community Social Services Union Bargaining Association

    B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union Canadian Union of Public Employees Hospital Employees’ Union (CUPE) Health Sciences Association of British Columbia United Steelworkers of America Professional Employees’ Association United Food and Commercial Workers International Union International Union of Operating Engineers Canadian Translators and Interpreters Guild Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union British Columbia Nurses’ Union National Automobile, Aerospace, Transportation and General Workers Union of Canada (CAW-Canada)