The first strike by Community Living workers in 14 years is expected to escalate until the provincial government returns to bargaining.
About 40 of the BCGEU members — who provide support for persons with developmental disabilities and their families — rallied at noon Thursday at the north end of Overlanders Bridge as part of provincewide rotating job action.
They're the lowest-paid civil servants in B.C. and say they want to see improved funding from the province for themselves and for their clients.
"We're caring individuals who just want to go out and do a job and feel good about the supports we provide," said Angela Reed.
Workers picketed the offices of three service agencies in Kamloops throughout the day. Day programs were affected by the action on Thursday, although essential-service levels were maintained at group homes.
She said many workers find it impossible to support themselves and their families on the wage. Some take second jobs or move onto other opportunities in health, education and related fields. That means a high turnover and a drain on skills often required to support clients.
"It is below what is deemed a living wage."
Reed said the starting wage of $15.84 an hour was established a decade ago amidst wage rollbacks and program cuts. Sixty-five group homes have been closed since then and families were instead offered adult foster care as part of a privatization move, she said.
That, in turn, resulted in more clients winding up in jail or in psychiatric wards, she added.
"The cuts have all been a result of action from the government over the past 10 years. It made it difficult to go on supporting individuals."
Rotating strikes will continue until the province agrees to return to bargaining. Reed would not elaborate on the union's strike strategy, though.
There are about 120 Community Living workers in Kamloops who are BCGEU members. Their contract expired last March.