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UPDATED: Semiahmoo House Society employees on strike Wednesday

Staff at Semiahmoo House held up flags while picketing outside of their offices at 15306 24 Ave. during a one-day strike on Wednesday. - Sarah Massah photo
Staff at Semiahmoo House held up flags while picketing outside of their offices at 15306 24 Ave. during a one-day strike on Wednesday.
— image credit: Sarah Massah photo

Employees at Semiahmoo House Society joined more than 3,400 community-living workers Wednesday for a one-day province-wide strike over wages.

Starting at 7 a.m., staff from Semiahmoo House waved their yellow and blue flags in the rain while they picketed outside of their offices, at 15306 24 Ave., where they work with and support people with disabilities and their families.

Community social-service workers with the BC Government Employees Union have been in negotiations with their employers – the Community Social Services Employers Association – for nearly a year without any monetary offer at the bargaining table, according to the union.

The stalled negotiations are being attributed to the provincial government's bargaining mandate of co-operative gains, which dictates that all public-sector workers must find savings in their collective agreement to fund any wage increases.

"It puts employers between a rock and a hard place and constrains them," union communications officer Oliver Rohlfs said Tuesday. "Employers know we are challenged and the pay isn't sufficient."

Semiahmoo House staff member Paul Christian echoed Rohlfs, adding that he hoped the job action would increase awareness on their situation.

"We just needed to get it resolved. It would be nice if people find out about us and this situation. All we want is a fair and reasonable contract," he said at Wednesday's strike. "There's a lot of really good people who work here and I think we need to be rewarded with a fair contract.

"We know people appreciate the work we do here."

While essential services, including residential, were still running at Semiahmoo House, co-executive director Doug Tennant noted Tuesday that nearly all other programs – including personal-development day programs and employment-training programs – were shut down.

"I know that for our employees, this is a really difficult thing to do. They are very much here to support the people who are in programs here and it's very hard for them to do this, as they obviously don't like shutting down programs," Tennant said. "We've got a wonderful staff, so we know this wasn't an easy decision for them.

"Right now, we're just hoping things get settled soon."

While the strike is only set for one day, Rohlfs said future action can't be ruled out.

"On $15 an hour, it's hard to care for yourself and family, let alone someone else," he said. "And it's a pretty sad case when you can't do the work you love to do because your own living situation is difficult."

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