UPDATE: Local community service workers on strike today

Dorothy Bartsoff, chair of BCGEU Terrace local 312, stands with Santa Claus outside the Terrace and District Community Service Society building located at the corner of Lazelle Ave. and Eby St. Both are picketing during today
Dorothy Bartsoff, chair of BCGEU Terrace local 312, stands with Santa Claus outside the Terrace and District Community Service Society building located at the corner of Lazelle Ave. and Eby St. Both are picketing during today's one-day strike with TDCSS workers.
— image credit: Lauren Benn photo

Local workers with the Terrace and District Community Services Society are on strike today to protest a decade-long decrease in social service programs and wage financing by the provincial government.

Today's one-day strike in Terrace is one in a series of others happening across the province's interior this week by agencies that support children and adults with developmental disabilities among other supports, according to a news release by the BC Government and Service Employee's Union (BCGEU) today.

"Since 2004, the B.C. 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," said the release, adding that community social service worker wages have been declining over the last decade, citing the starting wage for a residential care worker as an example.

In 2002, the starting wage for that position was $16.83 but it has since dropped to $15.54. Factoring in inflation, the above wage figure shows a 22 per cent decrease over a decade, said the release.

"Their earning capacity is probably the lowest in the unionized working sector," said chairperson of Terrace BCGEU local 312, Dorothy Bartsoff, adding low wages have contributed to the sector having difficulty recruiting and retaining workers.

"The front line community social service workers across B.C. have given their bargaining committee a strong mandate which was over 85 per cent across the sector (to strike)," she said, adding Terrace's 72-hour strike notice for TDCSS workers was served Nov. 1.

Workers have been without a contract since March 31st, 2012, said Patsy Harmston, who works as the component chair for community social services with the BCGEU province wide. Harmston noted that contract negotiations have currently stalled with no date set to re-start.

Strikers are using this opportunity to petition the province to increase money available to the social service sector, however, the BCGEU's community social service branch and other unions who share the workers' contract in that sector are in bargaining with their employers, not the province, Harmston clarified.

Bargaining has been ongoing between unions and the Community Social Services Employers Association, which represents various non-profits across B.C.

"We don't bargain directly with the government, but that's who fund us," said Harmston.

No offers have been put forth for a new contract to date, she added.

Today's strike in Terrace is one in a string of rotating strike actions in the sector across the province, with agencies in Vancouver, Kamloops, Prince George and Victoria having demonstrated since Oct. 16.

In B.C.'s interior, agencies from several Kootenay locations including Cranbrook, Creston, Castlegar, Trail and Nelson will be striking throughout the week.

During job action, essential services are being mandated, said the BCGEU release.


Editor's note: In a former version of this story, it was reported bargaining was taking place between the BCGEU and the province. In fact, the province is being petitioned to increase funding to the non-profits who employ workers and bargaining for a new contract has been between Community Social Services Employers Association and various B.C. unions.




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