Wage inequity: Standing still for 30 years

A few highlights from the BC newspaper archives to remind us that wage inequity in the community social services sector has a LONG history. Board Voice hopes you’ll find reasons to use some of this history in making your arguments for why we are way, way past needing to resolve this issue. It also provides more baseline information on our vital sector, which Board Voice is working hard to gather in order to strengthen all of our advocacy efforts.

And here’s a 1999 column on this issue written by Board Voice executive director Jody Paterson, back when she was a journalist working for the Victoria Times Colonist.

  • 1993: Korbin Commission estimates that as of 1991-92, there were 1,800 agencies performing contractual community social services that received government funds in excess of $20,000. (Modern times: MCFD alone now contracts with 5400 organizations). Meanwhile, more than 700 boards and agencies delivered health services in B.C., and the government of day, NDP, wants to merge them.
  • Spending in 1991-92 on contractual community social services totalled $628 million – up 161 per cent from 1984-85.
  • Community Social Services Employers’ Association (CSSEA) was created in 1994 to represent 140 social service agencies, most of them not-for-profit, that receive provincial government funding. Their workers belong to four different unions.
  • 1999 – Early childhood educators funded by the health ministry and those funded by MCFD receive vastly different wage packets for doing the same job. An early childhood educator at Vancouver Hospital makes more than $18 per hour, receives a seven-per-cent employer- paid pension and employer-paid benefits. A person in the same position at Peninsula Child Care in White Rock makes $11.91 per hour, shares the cost of benefits and doesn’t receive a pension. At Mission Daycare, they are paid $9 per hour, have no sick time, no benefits, and no pension. Their job descriptions are identical and they have the same qualifications: a college certificate and a licence to work in the field. And they all work for non-profit organizations.
  • 1999 editorial, excerpt: B.C.’s social services sector is served by 450 groups, both non- unionized and unionized; some are non-profit, some for-profit. All provide important services including help for the mentally and physically handicapped, the alcohol- and drug- addicted, battered women and aboriginal people. In short, their work is the same. The difference is that the government gave unionized workers pay increases of more than 30 per cent over five years to settle their 11-week strike this spring — and gave non-unionized workers vague words.
  • 1999: Non-union service providers go to Labour Relations Board. The dispute was sparked this spring when the government reached an employment agreement with 10,000 unionized community social services workers. The agreement ended a lengthy dispute involving 140 service agencies. Historically underpaid, the unionized employees received wage increases of up to 30 per cent over five years. The collective agreement means unionized workers earn between $14.45 and $16.83 an hour while non-union employees doing identical work earn between $11 and $14 an hour. The government has refused to provide sufficient money to make up the difference.
  • 2000 – Hours before the Labour Relations Board hearing is to start, government steps in with settlement for the more than 9000 non-union workers, who will receive wage increases of 29.5 per cent over the next three years.
  • 2000 story on home support and other in-home care: The government funds hundreds of agencies throughout the province that provide various types of in-home care to people who are elderly, disabled or mentally handicapped. Regardless of whether they’re unionized, for-profit or non- profit, all agencies must meet the same standard of care. The system doesn’t allow clients to switch caregivers easily, so consistency from agency to agency is essential. Given that, two similarly trained workers doing identical jobs at different agencies could presumably expect similar pay. But the government instead has a long history of funding unionized agencies at a higher rate while leaving non-union agencies to scrape by for yet another year with no money for a pay increase. “The inequities between union and non-union continue to worsen,” says Ed Helfrich, head of the B.C. Association for Private Care. “The non-union agencies haven’t seen any increases since 1995. But if they were to unionize tomorrow, the government would give them more money.”
  • 2002 – Bill 29 is introduced by the Liberal government, tearing up union contracts in community social services and health to allow for large-scale privatization.