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June 8, 2012

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Talks break down in community social services bargaining, strike vote to be taken

VANCOUVER - Talks broke down yesterday between the provincial government, employers and the ten unions representing B.C.'s 15,000 community social services workers. The parties have been in negotiations since February to try and reach a collective agreement.

Wages, benefits and concessionary demands by the employer, including revisiting improvements gained in the last round of bargaining are the outstanding issues. 

“We are asking for a fair and reasonable deal for the caring professionals that care and support adults with developmental disabilities, youth at risk, and women fleeing abusive relationships and other vulnerable people in B.C.,” said James Cavalluzzo, chair of the multi-union bargaining committee. Community social service workers are the lowest paid workers in the broader public sector, and they have not had a pay increase in three years. With inflation, that equates to an effective pay cut of five percent.

Under the B.C. Liberal government’s “co-operative gains” mandate, wage and benefit improvements must be funded through increased efficiencies, but the community social services sector is too lean to generate savings to fund wages through cuts elsewhere.

The bargaining committee tabled alternative proposals on cost savings and efficiencies which were not considered. When bargaining on behalf of 25,000 direct government service workers, the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) presented concrete proposals to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new annual government revenues to pay for wage and benefit improvements across the broad public sector, including Community Social Services. The government rejected these proposals.

Community social services workers provide a wide range of assistance to people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, including providing child care for families, employment and housing support for people with developmental disabilities, specialized services for immigrants, support for women dealing with violence, substance abuse and addiction-related services, and much more.

Community social service workers in Aboriginal Services currently remain at the bargaining table.

The Community Social Services Bargaining Association (CSSBA) is the multi-union bargaining committee for BC's unionized community social service workers. The CSSBA includes ten unions with a combined membership of about 15,000. The BCGEU is the largest union in the community social services sector, representing about two-thirds of workers. CUPE, HEU, HSA are the next largest followed by UFCW, CSWU, USW, SEIU and CLAC.

The provincial government's Community Social Services Employers’ Association (CSSEA) represents 220 agencies in the sector.

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