Sep 17, 2012

Community social services workers rally for justice

Public sector’s lowest paid employees slam BC Liberals, prepare for job action

VANCOUVER—After eleven long years of BC Liberal attacks on their sector, the province’s community social services workers—including 2,500 CUPE members—have served notice that they’re mad as hell and are not going to take it anymore.

With an overwhelming strike mandate across the sector, CSS workers held a large rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery on September 13 that attracted hundreds of supporters and placed the blame for the erosion of community social services squarely on the provincial government.

The rally, themed “The Heart and Soul of Our Community,” was staged in front of CUPE BC’s community events trailer and was hosted by CUPE 1936 president Michael Lanier. Featured speakers all praised the work of community social services workers, and called on Premier Christy Clark to stop putting the squeeze on them.

Instead, they said, the government needs to put badly-needed resources back into a sector that is suffering from underfunding, cutbacks, and program closures.


Time to stop the bleeding

“In the past decade, the BC Liberals have taken millions of dollars out of this sector—cutting programs, closing group homes, and allowing waitlists to grow at an alarming rate,” said CUPE BC secretary-treasurer Mark Hancock, in his welcoming remarks.

“How many other areas of government do you think could lose more than $300 million over eight years, without getting that money back, and still offer the best service possible for the public?”

BCGEU community social services worker Patsy Harmston, sharing some of her experiences from fifteen years working in the sector, spoke of the many different groups of people who rely on community social services. Proud of the work she does, she added that it’s stressful not to be valued by the government.

“For goodness sake, we have workers going to food banks to feed their own families,” said Harmston. “This is what we’re dealing with. We’re not asking for the stars and the moon. We want a fair and reasonable wage; so that when we’re supporting your families we can support our own at the same time.”

Alanna Hendren, executive director of the Developmental Disabilities Association, spoke to the theme of the event by reminding attendees why CSS workers are so valuable.

“Because you always put the people you support first, the public is often unaware of the work that you do,” said Hendren, who drew cries of “Shame!” from the crowd when she described how, in some cases, the base pay for CSS workers has gone down over the past ten years.


No need for an economics lesson

CUPE 1936 vice-president Sheryl Burns described how community social services workers are forced to bear witness to the impacts of BC Liberal cuts and closures on the people who rely on those services.

“Abused women denied the legal aid that they need. Scores and scores of homeless people, unable to find safe and warm beds for the night. Developmentally challenged people, suddenly cut off from financial and social support that they’ve had all their lives—all because of a birthday,” Burns said.

“These kinds of heartbreak and many, many others, are the kinds of things we’re forced to bear witness to, and yet we’re paid peanuts—peanuts—for the work that we do. In spite of this, the government will claim that we’re being greedy. When we ask for fair and reasonable wage increases, they’ll say that we don’t understand economics….But do you know what? We do understand economics, don’t we? We know that our wages will no longer pay for gas at the pump. We know that the cost of bread has risen further than the cost of our wages. And we know that our wages now are worth less than they were back in 2000 and 1999.”

BC Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair and BCGEU president Darryl Walker also addressed the rally, which featured a strong labour presence.  In addition to member unions of the Community Social Services Bargaining Association, the BCTF, Vancouver & District Labour Council and other labour organizations were well represented. Scores of concerned local residents with no labour affiliation also attended.

For more photos of the rally, visit the CUPE BC gallery.


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