Unions bargain a $100 million payout to low-wage workers in B.C.

BY: CALM 2019-02-08

UNION HATERS ARE HAVING A HARD TIME IN B.C. There is a $100 million answer to the question “what have unions done for you lately.”

Two union bargaining associations have won a total of $100 million dollars for 31,000 health and social care workers who worked for too little, too long. The BCGEU (BC Government Employees Union) is the lead union in both associations, which together include 12 other unions.

The settlement negotiated by the Community Social Services Bargaining Association (CSSBA) provides $60 million in redress funding for 15,000 workers at neighbourhood houses, community centres, shelters and other facilities.

The Community Health Bargaining Association (CBA) negotiated a total of $40 million in redress funding. The CBA represents 16,000 workers in senior care, home care and other aspects of community health care.

A $100 million payout divided among 32,000 workers works out to about $3,222 per worker. However, a union committee will decide exactly how to parcel out the redress payments, with the focus on helping the lowest paid workers most.

On top of the redress funding, both bargaining teams won annual wage increases for the community health and social care workers of 2 percent for the coming three years.

Union campaigns
The successful bargaining resulted from years of continuous effort by unions. Protests and other activities called for action to deal with the hard reality of low pay and precarious work faced by social care and health services workers.

In April 2017, for example, the BCGEU organized a rally at the provincial legislature in Victoria to call for immediate improvements to the child welfare system. BCGEU pointed out the obvious: low pay made it difficult to attract social workers. BC paid 11 percent less, on average, than other provinces.

The poverty-level wages and often precarious working conditions have led to a shortage of care workers in BC. A report earlier this year predicted that the province needs 2,800 additional care workers to keep services running over the next three years.

A significant number of workers in health and social care are paid less than $19 an hour, well short of the $20.91 living wage in metro Vancouver. This puts  community health and social care workers among the lowest paid workers in the public service.

Couple this reality with the skyrocketing cost of living in Vancouver and it means even full-time social care workers in the city often can’t afford to live in the city where they work.

Cheryl Burns, president of CUPE Local 1936, told the Toronto Star, “Many workers work two and three jobs in order to survive—single parents go to food banks. It’s really horrible.”

Tackling inequalities
The negotiated pay increases will help to tackle some of the pay inequities in the care system. But the fact that many community healthcare workers are paid less than workers doing virtually the same jobs in hospitals remains a problem that needs fixing.

There is also the ongoing problem of the gender gap in pay. Around 80 percent of the workforce in health and social care in Canada is made up of women, many of whom earn low wages. This one factor explains a lot about why the average female worker in a full-time job still earns only 74 percent what men get.

This latest victory for health and social care workers in B.C. is a double victory. It puts money into the pockets of low-paid workers. Plus, it shows exactly why unions matter. It is unions, and only unions, who will take up for workers getting less than they deserve. And it is unions, and only unions, who have the smarts, the resources and the resolve to stand shoulder to shoulder with those workers until they get it.

What makes it even sweeter is that union haters have to bite their tongues and stop asking “what have unions done for you lately?” Unions have a fresh $100 million answer ready for them.

This article was originally published by The Canadian Labour Institute: