The people who work with developmentally delayed or disabled people, who work with First Nations people at risk, who operate shelters for women fleeing violence, who help new immigrants settle into an unknown community and culture — those were the people on strike in Kamloops Wednesday.
BCGEU president Darryl Walker gathered with more than 20 of those members in front of the Interior Community Services office on Tranquille Road Wednesday morning, a few hours before they marched down the street to MLA Terry Lake's office.
They are among 15,000 community social services workers provincewide who are lobbying for support for more money in their next government contract. In the Kamloops region, the negotiations affect 258 people at nine agencies.
Walker said the workers saw their wages cut under an extension of Bill 29 about 10 years ago. Starting wages are less now, at $15.54 an hour, than in 2002, when it was $16.83, he said.
Meanwhile, inflation has added 18.1 per cent to the cost of living in that decade.
The union members had very little in increases between 2006 and 2010, and took zero per cent from 2010 to 2012.
The province has suggested finding efficiencies, or co-operative gains, to benefit the workers.
Walker said the programs are so cut to the bone, there are no co-operative gains to be found.
"It's time for this government to step up, ensure a fair and reasonable increase."
Wednesday's event in Kamloops was part of a three-day union effort to raise awareness of their situation. BCGEU pickets went up outside Premier Christy Clark's office on Tuesday, and another round of pickets is expected in Prince George Thursday at Shirley Bond's office.
The workers' contract expired on March 31.
Lake said the government has taken the lead by not giving increases to MLAs or cabinet ministers in three and a half years.
"We have made it clear we're not going to raise taxes to pay for increased wages for government workers. We have the co-operative gains mandate, which asks unions to work with government to find savings that could be used toward contract talks," he said.
"We've been very successful, when you look across public sector, we've settled with teachers, we've settled with nurses, a large part of BCGEU has settled, doctors have settled."
He said he had no difficulty with the pickets outside his office, as it is the workers' right to do that to make their point.
And while the government has had several big announcements lately, they have all been around capital projects, not operating, he said.
"There's a big diff between capital spending, which has been in our financial plan, but the operating, certainly, we are not making changes there. We're committed to balancing the budget in 2013-14."
BCGEU community social services chairwoman Patsy Harmston said there are no offers on the negotiation table right now, and no dates set.
The top wage most of the workers can get is $20.70 an hour.
Local representative Kari Bepple said the Interior Community Services office being picketed is mostly a site for managers. It would have the least impact on clients.
Other community agencies involved are Kamloops Infant Development, Prima Enterprises, Kamloops Society for Community Living, John Howard Society, Children's Circle Daycare and Lii Michif Metis society.