Members at First United Church ratify strong first contract

UFCW 1518 members at First United Church in the heart of the Downtown Eastside understand hardship. They see it every day as they serve some of Vancouver’s most vulnerable residents. Homelessness. Poverty. Undiagnosed mental health issues. Addiction. Our members work to provide advocacy, housing, meals and social programs to help people deal with some of society’s worst social ills.

But their commitment to social justice isn’t only reflected in their work. It’s in the solidarity they show each other. When it came to negotiating their first-ever collective agreement, our members wouldn’t leave anyone behind. “The sad reality is that this type of work is often precarious and poorly paid,” says Kim Balmer, Executive Assistant to the President. “But during bargaining, our higher paid members were willing to forego a wage increase to ensure that their lesser paid co-workers came up to $15 an hour or greater. They wanted to ensure the custodians and dishwashers would make a living wage.”

UFCW 1518 has been an active supporter of the Fight for $15, which aims to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in order to lift people working full time above the poverty line. Currently, BC has one of the lowest minimum wages in the county, with the highest cost of living. A living wage would lift workers out of poverty, allowing them to support their families while benefitting the economy. Our members also understand the importance of a living wage, and were willing to fight for it. “The bargaining committee took a firm position: no worker would work for less than $15 an hour. They took a very principled stand on achieving a living wage,” says Balmer. “It’s remarkable for a first contract.”

In the first year of the contract, wage increases range from three percent to 11 percent, with some classifications achieving greater than 30 percent. All members will receive a subsequent 2.5 percent wage hike on August 1, 2017, followed by another two percent jump on August 1, 2018. “It’s never just about wages, though,” Balmer adds. “We got very good scheduling language that will promote more full time positions. We got job posting language that will enable workers to move to higher paid classifications. There’s also very good shop steward and union recognition language – that’s important.”

Strong health and safety language was also a critical gain. “In many cases these members deal with people suffering from untreated mental illness and addiction. They’re often faced with folks who can be violent. And all this is complicated by the opiate crisis in British Columbia, which means they’re also dealing with folks who are overdosing,” Balmer explains. “So we made sure we got the language to help deal with serious incidents and aggressive behavior.”

Sign the Fight for $15 petition here.