Deal reached for social service workers

Employees to vote on tentative agreement

About 160 Nanaimo workers in the community social services sector have avoided job action.

A tentative agreement was reached between Community Social Services Bargaining Association and the employers’ association, averting job action by 15,000 workers across the province.

The nine member unions in the bargaining association walked away from the bargaining table at the beginning of April and began taking strike votes shortly thereafter.

Members returned an 82 per cent strike mandate at the end of May. After a lengthy process of determining what services would be maintained as essential during a strike, the association was poised for strike action when the deal was reached.

Oliver Rohlfs, a spokesman for the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, which represents more than 10,000 workers in the sector, said the agreement includes enhanced job security for workers and a $600,000, one-time retraining grant to help workers upgrade skills or find other employment.

He said one of the union’s concerns was better security for workers, particularly those who work in adult group homes – many have closed or had contracts re-tendered in an effort to save money.

If a new agency wins the contract, the tentative agreement enables workers to move to the new group home with all of their rights intact, whereas before an employee had no rights with the new agency, said Rohlfs.

Improved language around bumping, job selection and bullying are also part of the tentative agreement.

“It’s about protecting people who have experience in the sector,” he said. “There’s a real retention issue.”

What is not included in the new agreement is a wage increase, which was never on the table.

“Not having a wage increase … makes this deal a bit of a tough sell to our members,” said Rohlfs, adding that community social service workers are the lowest paid of all workers in the broad public sector and have been falling further and further behind.

The association bargains on behalf of workers in social service organizations such as group homes, shelters, supported housing, sexual assault centres, victims’ services, transition houses, child care centres, crisis lines, and programs for counselling, rehabilitation, employment training, outreach, advocacy and referral services.

Nanaimo members include about 110 Canadian Union of Public Employees workers at the Nanaimo Association for Community Living and about 50 B.C. Government and Services Employees’ Union workers at several local agencies, including Clay Tree Society.

Rohlfs said the association will know by the end of September if workers accept the deal – the bargaining committee is recommending members ratify it.

Sandi Case, director of human resources and labour relations with the Community Social Services Employers’ Association, said the association is pleased with the outcome of the 22-month negotiation process.

“It ended on a positive note, which we hope will lead to improved labour relations in the future,” she said.