For many families and working individuals, Labour Day offered one last chance to extend the summer and enjoy a long weekend.
But for a large number of unionized workers in B.C., it signals what could be the start of a fall and winter of discontent.
Unsatisfied with a three-per-cent wage hike offer and stagnanted negotiations with the province, the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union staged a one-day walkout Sept. 5.
The strike, which didn’t affect essential service levels, didn’t come out of the blue. Civil servants have been without a contract since March 31 and bargaining between the two sides has stalled.
The timing of this move by one of the province’s largest unions is rather ironic. Unions fought for workers’ rights for years, achieving gains in safety, working hours, job security and not least, wages.
Now, as much of B.C. took a well-deserved day off on a holiday originating from union victories on the issues of work hours and living wages, the BCGEU and other unions are gearing up for more fights, with wages, benefits and job security still at issue.
More than 1,300 support staff at the University of Victoria, without a contract since March 2010, considered job action options as students returned to class. Job security is at issue – CUPE fears the province’s call for universities to find major cost savings could see major job losses – but holding the line on wages to save jobs is not on the table.
And for much of this year, the 30,000-strong B.C. Nurses’ Union has stated that better patient care and adequate staffing levels – requiring more hires and more government dollars – are top priorities in contract negotiations.
We can be grateful to workers of old for our September holiday and the conditions around which we earn our living.
But with the province still struggling to right itself on shaky economic ground, the unions of today need to remember they can’t expect to keep gaining while others continue to struggle.