The B.C. government is in discussions with a group of community care agencies after they delivered a threat of legal action to challenge an additional raise given only to unionized employees.
The B.C. CEO Network, representing more than 120 union and non-union community and social service agencies, says the $40 million “low-wage redress” fund the province provided in its budget has been withheld from 17,000 employees because they aren’t members of the B.C. Government Employees Union or the Hospital Employees Union. The unionized staff receive a wage increase three times the size of what non-union employees get to do the same work, in some cases for the same agency, B.C. CEO Network board chair Doug Tennant says.
The employees work for contract agencies that care for people with mental and physical disabilities and addictions, new immigrants and vulnerable children and seniors, according to the Federation of Community Social Services of B.C. As of April 1, union and non-union employees received the two per cent raise in each of the next three years that has been offered to unions across government.
The Ministry of Social Development and Poverty reduction, which administers many of the contracts, issued a statement Thursday indicating that its senior staff are in discussions with Tennant. A response is to be provided to him “in the coming weeks,” the ministry said.
Board vice-chair Karyn Santiago objected to comments made by Premier John Horgan last week, suggesting non-union agencies might not deliver low-wage redress payments to their employees. The Community Social Services Employers Association, which bargains for the agencies, has been collecting data on 675 non-union agencies for three years, and each provides a letter “to confirm that they will deliver 100 per cent of all the wage increases directly to the employees,” Santiago said.
The ministry replied that the reporting is voluntary and “at this time non-union service providers have operational discretion to determine employee pay rates.”
On Feb. 28, the HEU reported to its members that “progress is being made” on allocating the $40 million fund.
In a letter to Finance Minister Carole James, Vancouver lawyer Delayne Sartison called the government’s action “unfair and damaging” to services and a violation of the Labour Relations Code.
“Non-union workers will have no choice but to either (a) unionize their current employer, or (b) quit their jobs and find jobs doing the same work with union employers or within the unionized aspects of hybrid employers in order to receive the low wage redress increases that the government has publicly stated are imported for the sector,” Sartison wrote.