B.C. NDP cabinet ministers avoided questions Tuesday about what opposition MLAs called a “forced unionization” strategy across the province’s community social services contractors.
The NDP government negotiated a $40 million “low wage redress” fund for employees in community social services last year, in addition to the standard two-per-cent pay increase offered to most provincial unions in each of the next three years. That money is expected to fund an additional four per cent pay increase for qualifying workers, but only those represented by unions.
B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson tabled letters to Finance Minister Carole James from two organizations representing hundreds of social services agencies. Tanya Behardien, president of the Federation of Community Social Services of B.C., wrote that member agencies are already struggling and “the widened gap in wages will continue to create employment barriers that many will not be able to overcome.”
Wilkinson read from a letter sent March 15 by Brenda Gillette of the of the B.C. CEO Social Services Leadership Network, predicting that “non-union agencies will be unable to recruit or retain skilled employees” to provide services for children, families, people with intellectual disabilities and Indigenous communities.
James replied in question period by saying the B.C. Liberals provided no budget increase for community social services in 2010 or 2011. Social Development Minister Shane Simpson said: “We’re working with that sector. We’re rebuilding that system. It’s working. We’re proud of that.”
B.C. Liberal mental health critic Jane Thornthwaite said half of the social services providers in B.C. are non-union.
“This discrimination is a blatant attempt at forced unionization,” Thornthwaite said.