B.C.’s biggest public-sector unions are teaming up to deliver a message to the province: We were on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s to compensate us for that.
The BC Teachers’ Federation, BC General Employees’ Union, Hospital Employees’ Union, Health Sciences Association and CUPE BC published a joint ad in local newspapers on Friday.
The unions are in the midst of negotiating new contracts with the government, with the BCGEU recently reporting to members that progress has stalled.
These unions include liquor store workers, teachers, school support staff, nurses, technicians and many other front-line workers.
“Workers across B.C.’s public sector have been on the front lines of a pandemic, floods and fires, and the poisoned drug crisis,” the ad reads.
“They have kept our families safe and our province working through challenging times. And they will be critical to building a strong recovery that will protect our communities into the future. But they’re being left behind.”
The organizations, which represent almost 400,000 workers at the bargaining table this year, are concerned about the skyrocketing cost of living and wage increases that don’t keep up.
“They deserve a fair deal. A deal that protects their wages against inflation and supports the strong public services we need to build a stronger B.C. together,” the ad reads.
The province has historically operated under a consistent mandate for wage hikes for all public-sector unions, but the pandemic has changed many things, including how it negotiates.
In a wide-ranging interview with Focus BC that aired Friday, Premier John Horgan alluded to the possibility of compensating front-line workers for the sacrifices they have made during COVID.
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“Teachers have been right in the centre of it because, when you put a whole bunch of people in one room for a whole day — when you are talking about an airborne disease — that is a challenge,” Horgan said.
“It is there a need to compensate that? Or is there a need to better understand where we can make investments (for example) in HVAC systems within our old and our new schools?”
He said those investments involve negotiations with B.C.’s big unions, but also pointed to the need for more funding via health transfer payments from the federal government.
“I think I’ve got the prime minister in a place where he’s prepared to negotiate with premiers about that.”