Thousands of community living workers around the province are striking this week and Sunshine Coast workers may soon be involved.
The BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) announced Jan. 29 that more than 3,000 community living workers were going on strike to protest low wages and improper government funding of programs.
Community living workers help individuals with disabilities participate in the community and enjoy a better quality of life.
On the Coast workers with Sunshine Coast Association for Community Living (SCACL) are under the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 1936 and say they will organize any strike effort alongside workers covered by the BCGEU. As of press time Thursday no local action was scheduled for the coming week.
CUPE local 1936 covers about 1,000 community living workers in Greater Vancouver and on the Sunshine Coast.
“We’ve been targeting different areas of the community social services basically in an effort to highlight our issues and the kind of work that we do because most people don’t understand that community social service workers are not social workers,” said Michael Lanier, president of CUPE local 1936.
The common issues of community living workers are the $15 an hour starting wage, which is a dollar less than was paid 10 years ago, and inadequate funding by government of programs for people with developmental disabilities.
The workers’ concerns around program funding came out one week after the provincial government released a glowing report on how they are meeting 12-points raised in a 2011 review of Community Living B.C. (CLBC).
CLBC was set up by the provincial government in 2005 to distribute funding to various community living organizations around the province. Public complaints about things like insufficient funding, inadequate transition supports, conflicting goals of government and CLBC and a lack of service integration triggered the 2011 review.
Government set out to fix the problems identified by providing an additional $144 million in funding over the next three years, setting up an integrated delivery system and increasing supports to the disabled and their families.
Premier Christy Clark unveiled the plan Jan. 19.
“British Columbians with developmental disabilities and their families can have confidence that their government has listened,” Clark said.
But Lanier said the millions allocated to help won’t be enough.
“In actual fact it’s only a drop in the bucket of what they’ve taken out of the system. We figured that just from our employees alone since 2004 there’s been almost $300 million that’s been cut out of the collective agreement,” Lanier said. “And that’s not to mention the money that the agencies themselves have seen cut back.”
Glen McClughan, executive director of the SCACL agency, said SCACL has not seen much in the way of extra funding, but they have had the ability to expand some service in the past year.
“The staff at CLBC seem to be trying harder to engender good relations and find creative ways to find funding where they can,” he noted.
While he sees some movement by government to address issues raised he agrees with the union that more money needs to be paid to workers.
“My opinion, and I would say that it’s the opinion of most of my colleagues, is that our employees are most definitely underpaid,” McClughan said. “What we require of people is a lot and how they get remunerated in dollar terms is pretty low.”
He said higher pay could help with recruitment and retention on the Coast.
“We might get a young person who really enjoys it but maybe they then get their residential care aid certificate and they find they can work either in a hospital or a long term care facility and make significantly more money,” McClughan said.
Community Living workers have been without a contract for nearly a year.
“The last time we met with the employers’ association was in mid-September. They’ve had our entire bargaining package since June and they have not given us a single response on the monetary said of our proposal,” Lanier said, noting strikes will likely continue throughout the province until the monetary issues are addressed.
If Sunshine Coast Community Living workers do strike in the coming weeks McClughan said essential service levels will be maintained to ensure “no clients suffer.”