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Unions recommend 'yes' vote on social service workers' contract

Unions representing 15,000 community social service workers in B.C. have recommended that their members ratify a new contract after negotiations that one union involved, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), has described as "a very lengthy and often difficult process."

In May, union members gave their negotiators a strong mandate with an 82% yes vote authorizing strike action if necessary. But at the beginning of this week, negotiators announced what they view as successfully completed discussions with employers.

Negotiations for the tentative agreement involved BCGEU, CUPE, HEU and HSA, as well as five other workers organizations. BCGEU (BC Government and Services Employees Union) which represents 10,000 of the 15,000 workers in the sector, expressed satisfaction with the results of the contract negotiations.

"This agreement is welcome as it offers important improvements for workers who support children, women, adults with developmental disabilities, and other vulnerable members in our communities," says James Cavalluzzo, BCGEU member and Chair of the Community Social Services Bargaining Association.

A news release from CUPE on August 15 said the agreement, unanimously endorsed by the bargaining association, would meet key bargaining demands, as the tentative agreement "… improves job security and fair work practices for workers, such as bumping, job selection language and bullying. In addition, the government has approved a $600,000 retraining grant for workers in the sector."

The tentative agreement, which will need to be ratified by both union members and employers, covers the 15,000 workers in Community Living Services and General Services. But outstanding issues still remain unresolved for workers doing similar jobs under the Aboriginal Services general agreement. Negotiations for that group of workers are scheduled to commence in late September.

Government funding cuts to the nonprofit organizations that typically employ unionized workers in the community services sector were sharply criticized recently by Alanna Hendron, writing in the Vancouver Sun on behalf of the B.C. Community Living Action Group. She said:

"Advocates for community living are calling on the B.C. Government to increase funding; create an independent oversight mechanism and investigation process; provide a range of service and support options, including group homes, to meet existing and evolving needs of individuals; and develop and implement a provincial framework for home sharing, covering service standards, health and safety, respite, training, and oversight."

Tom Sandborn covers health policy and labour beats for the Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at [email protected].

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