Many Community Social Services are delivered by non-profit and private companies through contracts with the Provincial Government. To help provide some structure and consistency to the social service sector, government created the Community Social Services Employers Association (CSSEA) in 1994. This Association acts as the bargaining agent for the employers and the BCGEU leads an association of unions in a group called the Community Social Services Bargaining Association. There are approximately 200 employers that are members and 76 of those members have non-union employees doing bargaining unit equivalent work.
Government contracts for these community social services with pretty clear expectations of the quality, volume and outcomes for the services. These services are very labour intensive – up to 90% of our costs are for wages and benefits. It is not possible to pay more than the government is providing for wages and benefits, in an ongoing way, by relying on fundraising or savings in other ways. This is what we mean by the government controls how much we pay our employees.
Since 1994, Government has provided the same wage and benefit funding to union and non-union employees of CSSEA members. In March 2019, the government surprised employers and CSSEA by announcing that an increase called Low Wage Redress (LWR) was only being provided to union employees. LWR is a continuation of a program begun in 2014 where government provided additional wage increases to help community social services wages catch up to community health wages. That funding (7.5% over three years) was called Comparability Increases and was provided to help community social services agencies deal with recruitment and retention challenges. It was provided to both union and non-union workers.
Low Wage Redress provides approximately 4% per year for three years to raise wages across the social services sector. One group of workers that got significantly higher increases were paraprofessionals, those with a significant level of training. Unionized paraprofessionals received increases of between 7% and 10% per year over the three years. Agencies with non-union paraprofessionals did not get this funding and are very concerned about their ability to continue providing the services the government has contracted them to provide in their communities.
The attached document from MCFD provides one example from a funder where different funding increases are described for different agencies, depending on their status.
There is a third group of employers who are not legislated into the CSSEA membership – agencies that have no bargaining unit employees. These non-union employers have also been receiving the same funding increases for wages since 2007. From 2007 to February 2019, non-union agencies received the same funding increases for employees doing contracted services funded by the Provincial Government. Attached are some CEO Updates from CSSEA with articles addressing the issues arising from the decision of government to fund LWR for union employees only.
One question we have been asked by media, by MLA’s and other interested community members is why we don’t just unionize to get the equivalent funding. The answer is that employers don’t unionize -- it is the employees who choose to organize (or join a union) because they feel they need support to address issues with their employer. This is supposed to be a freely made choice by employees, not a decision made due to economic coercion by the government. This is the basis of the Labour Relations Board complaint made by employees of our coalition agencies, and by our coalition.
We have pursued a multitude of advocacy and communications avenues to get the attention of government to this issue of equal work for equal pay, and even believe government agrees with us from a values perspective. A recent quote from Premier Horgan seem to show the union and government on our side of the argument:
“Nearly 20 years later, we are still living with the aftermath of those choices, with workers paid less to do the same work as their colleagues in the public system,” Horgan said. “It’s time to put a stop to it.”
- as reported in the Vancouver Sun, August 30, 2021.
Unfortunately Premier Horgan and his government continue to oppose the employees who have filed the unfair labour practice complaint at the LRB.