Workers providing support to Victoria’s most vulnerable population now have labour protection of their own.
Employees at Our Place Society voted on April 22 to join the BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU). These 260 workers operate 10 sites across Greater Victoria, providing supportive housing and community-based services to those experiencing poverty and homelessness. Our Place Society is one of the largest such service providers in the region.
“Every worker deserves the protection and power of a union, and it is really gratifying to see so many workers wanting to organize their worksites,” BCGEU president Stephanie Smith said in a release.
Workers were looking for improvements to health and safety, as they work front line with vulnerable clients. The society shut down its drop-in services temporarily last September after a staff member was assaulted, and workers say conditions have not improved. The opioid crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have stretched resources throughout the sector, and workers felt the protection and structure of a union would help ensure their safety.
“Staffing shortages have been a chronic problem at various OPS sites long before the pandemic,” said one worker in the BCGEU release. “Working conditions and client care have deteriorated to dangerous levels, as have relations between workers and management. That’s why I voted yes to unionization – for the good of my clients, my co-workers and myself.”
BCGEU, which has a membership of 85,000, already represents more 500 workers at Victoria CoolAid Society, Beacon Community Services and the Salvation Army. The union’s goal is to continue organizing to improve working conditions across the sector.
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