Some of the lowest-paid government workers in the province rallied together Friday to plead their case. They wanted the public and their government employers to know they are hoping for some cash in their next contract.
They gathered on the sidewalk in front of local MLA Shirley Bond's office and sang a song called Just A Fair Contract to the tune of Aretha Franklin's R-E-S-P-E-C-T. They were the leaders of the province's Community Social Services Workers collective unit. They are spread across many disciplines of the public sector, and are represented by different unions depending on the setting, but the largest grouping of them fall under the BCGEU banner.
"We support the community's most vulnerable people," said Patsy Harmston, component chair for the affected workers. She said many work in isolated locations, many on a casual or a part-time basis, and many in low-wage and low-benefits compensation deals.
"We are amongst the lowest paid in the public sector," Harmston said. "It is mostly women doing these jobs, they are often on auxiliary lists here and there, there is very little job security and very little compensation."
There are about 1,000 such workers in the Prince George region, she said. They work in transition houses, community living settings, youth-at-risk facilities, and aboriginal service centres.
"We aren't asking for outrageous things, just to feed out families and pay our normal bills. We just can't make ends meet. Some of our members even have to go to food banks," Harmston said. "When were supporting your families we want to be able to support our own at the same time."
Collective bargaining is underway now between the two sides. The BCGEU contended that since 2004, the Community Social Services aspect of the overall budget has been cut back by $40 million per year, and the workers have accepted zero-increase agreements for the past couple of contracts in order to protect their numbers and preserve services.
Similar rallies have been held in other parts of the province in the past few weeks.