Low-wage redress a small step towards repairing damage done to the CSS sector

We are the Community Social Services Bargaining Association (CSSBA)—an association of independent unions that collectively represent more than two-thirds of workers in the Community Social Services (CSS) sector.

Every day in communities and neighbourhoods across B.C. our members and their non-unionized counterparts provide vital services to some of our province’s most vulnerable citizens including children; people with developmental disabilities; immigrants and refugees; women and children experiencing violence; adults and youth in conflict with the law; and Indigenous individuals and families on and off reserve.

Despite the critical importance of the services the CSS sector provides, it has been in crisis for years—a crisis characterized by the lowest wages in the broader public service and some the highest rates of turnover, stress, injury and burnout in both unionized and non-unionized agencies.

This crisis is a direct result of a slate of legislative and regulatory changes implemented by the previous government designed to weaken unions, gut services, suppress wages, and encourage privatization at the expense of the health, safety, and dignity of frontline workers and the people they support.

Community social services is also the only part of the broad public sector where union-negotiated wages are afforded to non-union employers who don’t participate in the collective bargaining process, with the intended effect of discouraging unionization. It’s also true, that, in the absence of a union and a collective agreement, there is no oversight to ensure that these funds even make it onto the paycheques of non-union workers.

It’s a shameful legacy that did substantial damage to individuals, families and communities across B.C. The current government, and our association, are working hard on behalf of our members, their non-union counterparts and the clients they all serve to repair that damage.

Our association spent the better part of 2017 and 2018 working with our members to prepare for, bargain and ratify new collective agreements with the long-term goal of fixing the crisis in CSS and strengthening the sector for the sake of the workers and the people they care for. We knew we would not get it done in one round of bargaining, but we fought hard and made critically important gains including securing funding for “low-wage redress.”

It should surprise no one that we are fully in support of the government’s recent decision to provide funding for low-wage redress—funding secured through collective bargaining—to unionized workers. We see this decision as a small but necessary step towards restoring fairness, respecting workers and repairing the damage to the CSS sector caused by almost twenty years of regressive, targeted attacks by the previous government.

The government’s decision to provide low-wage redress to unionized workers is a critical step in restoring fairness and balance to the CSS sector. We applaud the decision and hope it is part of a larger project to not just repair the damage done but to re-vitalize and re-organize this vital sector including ensuring the dedicated professionals that provide these services have safe and healthy workplaces, family supporting wages and benefits, and free and unfettered access to the benefits of union membership.

The CSSBA is made up of 16,000 members working around the province and represented by the following unions: BCGEU, CUPE, HEU, HSA, CSWU, UFCW, USW, SEIU, CLAC and BCNU.

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