Responsible government?

Today, The Vancouver Sun's Vaughn Palmer reported "Finance Minister Carole Taylor received a plea last week from a lawyer representing dozens of contractors and hundreds of employees who were left behind in the public sector pay settlements." The letter, sent by Walter Rilkoff on behalf of the Federation of Child and Family Services, asks "when FCFS' non-union members and their employees will be provided with the financial resources to provide equitable enhancements to wages and benefits to FCFS' members' employees" in light of those settlements? According to Mr. Palmer, Minister Taylor was not "inclined to respond favourably" to that request. But former children and family development minister Gordon Hogg was delivering a different message to the press back in August.

Speaking with the Peace Arch News's Steve Addison, Mr. Hogg noted the Campbell administration recognizes "there were successful negotiations with the union sector, and we also have a responsibility with the non-union sector." And he was paraphased as saying "it has been past practice to provide non-union workers in the social service sector similar raises to those received by unions." What a difference a month can make!

15 Comments

The large discrepancy between the current Provincial funding rates for union and non-union employees is creating havoc for thousands of non-union agencies/providers who are contracted to deliver social services, community living services, etc on behalf of the Province, especially in a tightening labour market. So the FCFS employees represent the tip of a very large iceberg and Ms Taylor has been receiving pleas from many others in similar straits. Thousands of non-union employees in the social services and community living sector were left further behind with the recent unionized wage increase, widening an existing gap that was already problematic for their employers.

Mr Hogg would have been aware of all this because the gap was an issue long before the recent wage increases, way back when he was the MCFD Minister.

I agree, they should give the contracted out non-Union staff the raises and bonus money. As they pay no Union dues, they will end up being ahead of the game, and will have no incentive to Unionize. A win win scenario.

Why, I ask, would the government offer signing bonuses to people who will not be signing anything. Sorry folks, but it was a political decision by the Liberals based on the hope the unions would sign on to a deal that does little more than give the workers what they had stolen from them several years before.

It wasn't a reward for good work, for having bit the bullet or anything else. It was pure politics and it appears to have worked in getting most public sector negotiations off the table and to bed for the foreseable future.

Why would someone offer the same thing to people who have shown they won't stand up for themselves and who are more than willing to have employers speak on their behalf.

Ms. Taylor may be a lot of things I don't admire, but I do not think she nor any of her deputy ministers are idiots.

Hey, if they don't like the pay scale those non-union folks know as well as anyone what it takes to get an offer.

"...As they pay no Union dues, they will end up being ahead of the game, and will have no incentive to Unionize. A win win scenario."

Posted by Kevin Larsen on September 20, 2006

Kevin, this is so typical of your cheesy partisanship that I can't help remarking on it. If anyone has any doubt about the never ending union baiting and labour hating that goes on among right wing populists in BC they need only read this bit of drivel. And I really do hope that in your personal life you have people dumping on your own occupational situation, whatever it may be, with the same kind of contempt and derision you reserve for organized labour.

These may or may not be good points, but it's not really a union vs. non-union issue, as I understand it. Many of these employees work for grassroots employers--microboards, in-home care for mentally challenged adults, etc that may have only one or two staff, which may explain why many are not unionized.

The point, I believe, is that government is funding certain employers based on non-union rates of pay that are far behind those of unionized colleagues at larger and/or unionized agencies. If the staff unionize and/or demand union rates, the money still won't be there. The agencies will just have to cut their staff again to make do with less and vulnerable adults and kids will suffer once again.

It's essentially a budget/under-funding problem and Taylor needs to increase the overall budgets for the Ministries that contract these agencies and care providers, so that they can operate at more competitive rates instead of cutting back on services again.

The same thing is happening with direct-funded contracts for things like therapy for kids with special needs, I'm told. Families get $60 for an hour of therapy but they can't find professionals to work at that rate and the contracts don't even allow them to improvise to at least get two hours for the price of three, etc.

The context, we must remember, is hundreds of millions cut from provincial social service budgets between 2002 and 2005, only a fraction of which has been restored as demands and costs continue to rise every year. The Provincial Liberals continue to maintain the ludicrous pretence that frontline services have not been cut, but this demonstrates just one of the ways that the "clients" have been hurt, along with those trying to serve them on the Province's behalf.

...and when you're forced to care for challening kids and adults with reduced staffing, how do you keep them manageable? As the report just out from the Child & Youth Officer/Provincial Health Officer shows, you up their meds to keep them compliant.

The report (see today's 24 Hours) deals with kids in care only, but the same is happening with adults in community living. One more example of how cuts are hurting on the front lines.

"These may or may not be good points, but it's not really a union vs. non-union issue, as I understand it. ... "

Posted by Dawn Steele on September 21, 2006

Well Dawn, it certainly is a union versus anti-union issue for Kevin Larsen, as I suspect most issues are. For myself, I agree with you that there must be some kind of comparability in the raises in pay these employees of private contractors get given the changes in pay for the government's own workers. However, I am not convinced that they should be paid at the very same level. If they are to be paid at the same level, that is, if they are to enjoy ALL the benefits of the BCGSEU agreement, full wage parity in other words, then the union should become their recognized bargaining agent, and they should be paying union dues. Otherwise, they will be enjoying a free ride, ... just as Kevin Larsen wants them to do.

I agree with you that obviously there are budgetary implications of raising the pay for all these contractors' employees. And inevitably it raises the question of why so many workers are on contract intead of being employed by the Crown, and alerts people (other than Kevin, of course) to the fact that actual public sector employment is larger than governments' official payroll data would lead one to believe, that in fact there are thousands who are officially employed by nominally private or non-profit agencies whose only substantial revenue source is provincial and federal government contracts.

I wonder if they know that all the non-union Liberal hacks got a $4000 bonus out of nowhere last spring too...

I agree with Budd, it is union vs. non-union issue. And I have heard Unions are already going after non Union staff in many of these facilities so if you are looking to avoid further Unionization, and why would there be all of these contractors if you were not, by passing on the bonus money there would be no incentive to Unionize.

As Budd has correctly stated, the non-Union staff would be getting a free ride, however contractors do not offer the generous and costly benefits so there is still better value for the taxpayer, not to mention you don’t have the typical Union dues that get used for purely political purposes at election time to support the NDP.

The fewer public sector Union members the better. At least with contractors there is accountability where you can get rid of people not doing their job properly. In the public sector they simply get transferred to some other area where they can “bump” someone who was likely doing a decent job, but will loose out due to seniority. It is all about protecting the slackers at the expense of the productive. Not to mention someone has to pay those six figure incomes for the Jim Sinclair’s and George Heyman’s of the world

"... not to mention you don’t have the typical Union dues that get used for purely political purposes at election time to support the NDP."

"...At least with contractors there is accountability where you can get rid of people not doing their job properly. In the public sector they simply get transferred to some other area where they can “bump” someone who was likely doing a decent job, but will loose out due to seniority. It is all about protecting the slackers at the expense of the productive."

Posted by Kevin Larsen on September 23, 2006

As Kevin knows very well, both Jack Layton and Carole James have supported and advocated that both business and labour donations be banned to all parties, as they will now be prohibited at the federal level (I am not sure if the Tory bill eliminating all such donations is yet passed all three stages, but even the previous Chretien era amendments basically ended union and business donations except for very small amounts). So if Kevin has a problem with unions donating to political parties there's a very simple solution already used elsewhere.

The one and only reason why disengenous people like Kevin, and the rest of the BC Liberals, won't agree to this solution is equally simple. While the BC NDP is 70% supported by individual donations, even under the present law, Gordon Campbell's party is 70% supported by business donations. So people like Kevin continue to carp and whine in a most insincere way about labour donations to the NDP, while refusing absolutely to implement the obvious solution, if indeed it were any sort of real problem for them.

It's not, in fact, a real problem for Kevin and the Liberals at all. On the contrary, it's a opening for some class warfare politics, appealing to non-union workers to support the Coalition Party of the day, formerly Socreds, now Liberals, on the grounds that union workers are making better incomes and hoping that jealousy will motivate the non-union workers to vote for the party that promises to trim union wages. It usually works to some degree in that many non-union workers don't fully appreciate that if union wages go down, there's will soon follow, and that's exactly what their employers have in mind.

Kevin's discussion of the accountability for contractors is a complete fabrication. He is forgetting all the problems there have been with contractors doing everything from road maintenance to medical records. Furthermore, public servants can be fired for incomeptetence or incapacity and it does happen, contrary to the false picture that Kevin paints.

Budd,

I see Carole James suggestion as laughable at best. If you ban direct Union donations to the NDP the Unions will simply launch their own attack campaigns against whatever right wing government is in power, much like the previous so called “non partisan” BCTF campaign that stooped to hiring child actors and took direct potshots at the Premier personally. About the only thing Carole James proposal would do is see more of this third party money spent outside of the current campaign spending caps. Do you really want to see more third party attack groups out there ? Apparently Carole James does, and small wonder as they will be mostly Unions. Just count the amount of third party advertisers from the last election that were Unions.

Sheesh! OK, there are clearly many union/non-union issues and political issues, and if there weren't, someone would quickly invent some to bicker about.

Perhaps, what I should have said is that there are important issues that go beyond the usual union/partisan hot buttons, and that get to the heart of what I thought it was supposed to be all about -- i.e. society supporting vulnerable individuals in their communities through reasonable and effective use of tax dollars.

Mr. Hogg apparently saw this, as Sean points out, but no one else appears interested in talking about it, including his Cabinet colleagues.

Sorry for the interruption, please carry on, boys...

I do think Dawn’s point is valid, the whole union/non-union debate aside. I have one of those contracted out homes that look after special needs adults in my neighborhood. They have 24 hour round the clock staff and it is fairly attentive work as I see them out for walks often and whatever else. Fact is funding has been getting smaller in this sector for well over a decade and if there is not enough money for that type of work, people will not look favorably on it.

I also know a woman with a special needs child, the Ministry has granted her $ 3000/month for two weeks of respite care and she cannot find anyone willing to take that on. I don’t know if it is simply because of the money or whatever else, however I do think it is important to keep people working in this sector as there really are no alternatives for the parents.

"... About the only thing Carole James proposal would do is see more of this third party money spent outside of the current campaign spending caps."

Posted by Kevin Larsen on September 23, 2006

Third party spending can be controlled and is controlled if it directly recommends or criticizes a given party. Your attitude is simply constructed to keep the huge, indispensible flow of corporate cash going to the Liberals because you know very well that they cannot finance their party without it, anymore than the federal Liberals can.

If you had any genuine concern about third party spending evading spending caps, you would have cited the actions of numerous business propaganda groups, such as the Coalition of BC Business, the BC Business Council and the perfectly silly "Beleive BC" ads that costs millions, and all of which happen, by sheer coincidence, to echo messages found the BC Liberal Government's own multi-million dollar taxpaid campaigns. Clearly, you have no concern whatsoever with democracy or fair play or a level playing field. You only concern is to construct a set of rules which will, at every turn, favour the Coalition party of the moment, in this case the Liberals.

Budd,

Not to interrupt the standard socialist justification for using Union dues for NDP political purposes because of supposedly evil Business money on the other side of the fence with the facts, however the facts tell a different tale.

Search Elections BC for how many “business” groups were third party advertisers and there was a whopping seven, only three that actually did so in the 2005 Election. Compare that with 41 different Unions, the vast majority that all donated in 2005. No comparison at all really.

Most business groups simply donate directly to the BC Liberal party, however if you use Carole James suggestion to ban that practice they would simply become third party advertisers just like those 41 Unions. I still maintain that creating more third party advertisers is not something I would like to see and does nothing but move the goal posts.

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