Parents with children enrolled in daycare or preschool programs with the Sunshine Valley Child Care Society had to find different options for their kids’ care on Thursday, as the centre’s workers donned sandwich board signs and stood outside their workplace around a campfire to keep warm during their strike for higher wages and health benefits.
The move to strike came after the union representing child care and education workers at the facility and management failed after several months to settle on a new collective agreement. Workers confirmed their plans with parents on Dec. 17.
According to the BC Government and Services Union (BCGEU), which represents the staff at the Grand Forks facility, the two parties have not yet come to terms on how to settle “long-standing issues” including low wages, discussions arounds benefits and “significant issues with recruitment and retention.”
In B.C., the median wage for an early childhood educator is $17 per hour, according to 2018 provincial data.
According to the workers’ most recent collective agreement, a senior ECE at the facility makes between $17 and $18 an hour, depending on their level of certification. Employees’ wages at the centre are also supplemented by a $1 per hour provincial wage enhancement that was implemented in early 2018 but applied retroactively through to Sept. 2018. The province has announced that they will double the enhancement in April 2020.
No health benefits are detailed beyond a paid sick leave of up to 15 days in the contract between Sunshine Valley Child Care and the union.
“Our members’ goal is to deliver quality, professional child care to the children and families of Grand Forks, but too many years of low pay and no health and welfare benefits have led them to a crisis point,” said BCGEU president Stephanie Smith in a press release.
In an email sent to parents of children enrolled with Sunshine Valley Child Care, the society’s Board of Directors said that the society has “worked in good faith to negotiate a fair sustainable increase to wages, noting that pay increases “will come directly from the increase to parent fees and all profits that were made last year to cover wages retroactively.”
For the non-profit, “The only other option to approve higher wage increases would be to leverage the building and we think that is fiscally irresponsible and unsustainable,” the board said in the same email.
According to the centre’s executive director, Fatima Faria, more than 90 per cent of Sunshine Valley Child Care’s revenue accrued through family fees and BC gaming grants currently goes towards staff wages.
Faria also said that last year was a record year for enrolment at the centre and that Sunshine Valley had to turn away three children with special needs that they could not accommodate.
“For early childhood educators to vote to take job action, I think really speaks to an end of rope situation, if you will,” said Smith. “This would not have been an easy decision for the staff to take.”
The parties are expected to resume negotiations in January.