Government brings private home care in-house

UFCW 1518 is applauding a decision by the BC NDP to bring privately-run home support services back into the government fold, a change that will improve quality of care for British Columbians and increase job security for community health workers.

“As one of the first unions to organize home support workers, we understand very clearly the challenges our members face in providing top notch care to some of the most vulnerable people in our community,” said President Kim Novak. “This is a major victory that will reduce the uncertainty caused by private contract work and support our members in delivering the highest standard of care at home.”

The move to bring private home support services in-house will affect three of the province’s five health authorities – Fraser Health, Vancouver Coastal Health and Vancouver Island – and is in part due to decades of lobbying by health care unions. President Novak added that members will remain under the same collective agreement, and will not face any loss in wages, benefits or pension plan.

Privately run home support services will transition to the health authorities over the next 12 months, largely ending the model of widespread private contracting in BC. Health Minister Adrian Dix said he has been working closely with the health authorities and expects the transition to go smoothly, maintaining continuity of care for clients [source].

UFCW 1518 represents about 2000 community health workers across the province.

Union to Sobeys: invest in wages to help retention

Empire, parent company of Sobeys, announced strong third quarter financial results this week as the company prepares to pay out about $35 million in buyouts for its Safeway employees. Sobeys owns 50 Safeway stores in British Columbia. In the past year, it has closed another 10 Safeway locations that it plans to convert to FreshCo, the company’s discount banner.

“Clearly Sobeys was ready to pay significant money to reduce their labour costs through a voluntary buyout based on how quickly they made offers to our members,” said President Kim Novak. The company made the buyout offers just weeks after Special Officer Vince Ready handed down his decision last December that enforced concessions at stores he deemed to be struggling financially and approved the conversion of Safeway stores to FreshCo.

President Novak said that as sales continue to increase and the unprofitable stores reach profitability, she expects to see improvements for union members. “Despite a very tumultuous five years since Sobeys acquired the stores from Safeway, our members have continued to work hard for this company. In light of the reduction of labour costs as a result of the voluntary buyout and the exodus of many long service employees, I expect that Sobeys will respect and appreciate the continued service of those employees who have chosen to stay and ensure the day-to-day operation of the stores.”

President Novak added that she is skeptical of Sobeys’ aggressive expansion plan for FreshCo and is concerned about the company’s low wage model. “You can’t keep workers at minimum wage rates for extended periods of time, especially when retention is already a problem. We don’t agree that a discount banner requires discount wages and benefits.” The union remains open to negotiating wage improvements for members, she said. “Higher wages would create more stability for our members, which in turn would help Sobeys retain the employees they require to run their operation.”

Members safe after hazardous leak closes Merritt Save-On -Foods

The Save-On-Foods in Merritt was closed due to a refrigeration leak early this morning. There were reports of a layer of fog in the store and fire crews attended the scene as members were evacuated and sent home until further notice.

“I spoke with the shop steward today, and the union has been in contact with our Health & Safety Committee in the store,“ said Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Johnson.  “We’ve made our members aware of the situation and provided them with information about the hazards involved with exposure to refrigerant gases and how to stay safe.“

Secretary-Treasurer Johnson said the union has also been in contact with the employer’s health and safety representative and labour relations representative. “We are waiting to hear confirmation of what refrigerant was leaked. The employer is required to conduct an investigation under the Worker Compensation Act, which includes examining any process or procedures that were deficient, such as the evacuation procedure. They will also need to identify the root cause of the incident,“ he explained. “We will definitely be following up with Save-On-Foods to make sure our members get answers.“

Secretary-Treasurer Johnson thanked the Merritt Fire Department for their swift and professional response.


Safeway members to qualify for benefits faster

UFCW 1518 members working at Safeway will now qualify for MSP, extended health benefits and dental after six months of employment!

Trustees on the UFCW Health and Welfare Trust met last October and passed a motion to reduce the eligibility timeline for the Grid B benefit plan, subject to funding. After review, it was determined that there is sufficient funding to reduce the qualification period from 12 to six months. This despite Special Officer Vince Ready’s decision, which temporarily reduces employer contributions to the Grid B benefit plan in Appendix A stores.

“This is a significant win for our members,” said Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Johnson. “After it was established that the funding was available in the Health and Welfare Trust, reducing the qualification period for benefits to six months was absolutely the right thing to do.”

Now Grid B members who are 18 years or older and average 24 hours a week over a 13 week period will be eligible for the extended benefit package after six months of employment. The reduction in eligibility is retroactive to January 1, 2019.

If you have any questions about the new eligibility criteria, please contact the UFCW Health & Welfare Plan Safeway Division Administrator at 1.800.295.3348.

Universal Child Care Comes to BC

In 2011, Camie Pohl’s dream of becoming a mother came true. On a hot summer morning, the Save-On-Foods clerk gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Scotlyn. Camie’s journey to motherhood had been long and complex, but possible thanks to her union membership. “I was beyond grateful that my medical benefits covered my fertility treatments. I would not have been able to afford it otherwise!”

As challenging as it was to conceive her daughter, however, finding child care for her was almost more daunting. “When Scotlyn was three months old, I started making arrangements for child care. I called every child care provider in Kelowna. Most never even bothered to call me back. The few who did laughed at me for not calling sooner,” she explains. “I was a first time mom with only three months experience. Child care seemed impossible to attain.”

Sammi Stewart, a manager at the Starbucks in the Burquitlam Safeway Extra, had a similar experience. After giving birth to her son, Jackson in 2018, she began researching daycares. “It was pretty hard because everything I found had at least a one-year waitlist.” In the end, with her maternity leave drawing to a close, Sammi had to cobble together a solution: two different daycares and homecare provided by her grandmother.

Until recently, finding safe, dependable, affordable child care in British Columbia was a crap shoot. During the 16-year reign of the provincial Liberals, there was only meagre investment in child care: spaces were scarce; wait lists extended into the years; and would-be parents were advised to put their names on lists as soon as they became pregnant, or sooner.
Women who could not find child care often had no option but to leave the workforce. Those who did manage to find a space faced exorbitant fees and in some cases, an untenable choice: pay most of their wage toward child care or give up their careers. “I have a couple of friends who just stayed home,” explains Sammi. “They left their jobs because they couldn’t find daycare.”

In the worst case scenario, those unable to give up their income have been forced to place their children in unlicensed daycares and other unregulated but less costly options. Camie recalls her fruitless search for licensed child care and finally turning to home daycare. “I remember walking in and feeling horrified that this might be the only way I could go back to work. It was either leave my child there or quit my job of 12 years. I felt helpless.”

The need to address the child care crisis—the lack of affordability and spaces as well as low care provider wages and training—was tragically highlighted by the accidental death of Macallan Wayne. Two-year old “Baby Mac” died in a home daycare in 2017. According to critics, such a tragedy is unavoidable with unregulated child care that has no training requirements, health and safety standards, monitoring or oversight.

“There’s no question that finding a safe, quality care provider for your child is top of mind for working families,” says President Kim Novak. “It’s incredibly important and until the new government initiatives, has been incredibility stressful.” As a working mom to two busy boys, aged two and three, she speaks from experience. “I thought I’d interview all these daycares and pick the one that was right for me and my baby. What a shock to find out I’d be lucky to find anything at all. Making child care affordable and accessible enables women to have a career and provide for their family and have them be safe and well cared for.”

[pull-quote]There’s no question that finding a safe, quality care provider for your child is top of mind for working families[/pull-quote]

Under the BC NDP, things are finally changing for working women and families—for the better. Since 2017, Premier John Horgan’s government has invested $1 billion in child care, the largest single investment in child care in the province’s history. The money is earmarked for increasing spaces, reducing fees, building and renovating infrastructure, helping unlicensed providers become licensed, and improving the wages and educational opportunities for early childhood educators. It is a comprehensive approach that is long overdue, says Bowinn Ma, MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale.

“Before we took action, some families were paying more for childcare than they were for housing—up to $24,000 per year per child. The cost was absolutely crushing for some families and completely out of reach for others. Today, under our affordability programs a family making less than $40,000 per year can qualify for fee reductions and subsidies that bring the cost of full-time care down from $24,000 to zero. This is absolutely life-changing.”

The new Affordable Child Care Benefit provides financial support for families earning up to $111,000 a year. The Child Care Reduction Fee Initiative lowers the cost of child care for parents by funding eligible child care providers. The Child Care BC New Spaces Fund will support the creation of 22,000 new child care spaces over the next three years. For Sammi, the Affordable Child Care Benefit allowed her to secure licensed child care for her one-year old. “Without it I wouldn’t be able to afford full time care. I was given quotes of $2000 a month!”

Things have been rapidly improving for families in dozens of communities all across BC. In addition to the Affordable Child Care Benefit available across the province, North Vancouver alone has also received funding for four new child care facilities, providing 240 new licensed child care spaces as well as funding to convert an existing 37-space facility into a universal $200 a month child care prototype facility where parents pay a maximum of $200 a month for their child. There is also increased funding for programs to support teen parents.

“The progress that’s been made on the child care file in a short period of time has been remarkable, but we also know there’s still more to do,” continues Ma. “Thousands more spaces are needed, countless more early childhood educators, and even more progress needs to be made towards our goal of universal child care. We want to see BC become a place where every family has access to safe and affordable child care no matter their circumstances.”

The BC NDP’s comprehensive child care plan puts the province on track with other provinces that have established universal child care, particularly Quebec, whose $10 a day program has dramatically increased women’s participation in the workforce, which in turn paid for the program. “I’m proud that we as a union and a labour movement helped elect a government that understands the value of children to our society, and the importance of working women to our economy,” says President Novak. “There is no wasted dollar that’s invested in child care. And when working families are well-supported, everyone in society benefits.”

Building Worker Power: The Case for Organized Labour


“The hand that will rule the world” by Ralph Chaplin. Cartoon published in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) journal Solidarity on June 30, 1917.

“We are not robots. We are human beings.”

That’s what Rashad Long, a picker at an Amazon warehouse, told a press conference in New York City when Amazon workers announced their plan to unionize last December. Long painted a grim picture of life at Amazon: an inhumane environment where workers toiled long hours, forced to work extended unpaid shifts and pressured with disciplinary actions for not meeting unrealistic productivity targets. To say they fear for their health and safety at work is an understatement.

What Long described was a modern-day sweatshop, literally: “The third and fourth floors are so hot that I sweat through my shirts even when it’s freezing cold outside. We have asked [for] air conditioning, but the company told us that the robots inside cannot work in the cold weather.”

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is the richest person in the world. Evidently, this distinction has come at the expense of the workers who made his wealth: every nine seconds Bezos makes more than the annual median salary of his employees. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t want a union. Perhaps that’s why UFCW 175 had to file a labour complaint against Amazon Canada for interfering with an organizing drive in Ontario. The company had fired union supporters and closed one of their courier locations to fight the union. And it’s not the first time Amazon has gone to such lengths to prevent unionization.

“Corporations and captains of industry opine that we don’t need unions anymore—that all the necessary protections for workers have been won and are enshrined in law. That’s just not true,” says Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Johnson. “With the assault on unions for the past three decades, the decline in union density, and the weakening of labour law, nothing could be farther from the truth.”

Amazon workers aren’t buying it either. Because of their agitation and resistance, Bezos announced in 2018 that he was raising the start rate for Amazon workers to $15 an hour, the accepted living wage rate in the United States. “The reality is that fairness is not the norm. The role of unions has always been to support workers and help build better standards,” Johnson continues. “Robber barons like Bezos are no friend of workers; all decisions they make are motivated by personal profit. Ultimately, we know the only path out of poverty today is becoming a union member. And that’s why we organize.”



Since their birth in 18th century Europe, unions have been pushing government and business to treat workers better. But what happens when the legislation designed to support workers fails to protect them? “What’s the process of justice that happens then?” asks Stephen Portman, advocacy lead at Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS). His question is rhetorical: Portman and the legal team at TAPS are what happens. Together Against Poverty Society is a non-profit organization in Victoria, BC that provides free, in person legal advocacy for non-unionized workers who find themselves in disputes over their basic rights. TAPS helps clients with income assistance, disability benefits, employment standards, and tenancy issues. “We really are the pencil pushers of the social justice movement,” he says, with no hint of irony.

Portman knows too well the importance of organized labour. He witnesses it every day as the lead of the Employment Standards Legal Advocacy Project (ESLAP), defending the rights of non-unionized vulnerable workers whose only legal protection is the Employment Standards Act. He also knows the support his team provides can only go so far. “Often the issues we see with workers arise from the inherent power imbalance in the workplace,” Portman explains. “Whenever we get a win, it’s really just a win to treat a worker badly. So we fight to make an employer to pay his workers minimum wage. We fight and we win but the reality is that these workers are still making minimum wage and they are still living in poverty.”

The Employment Standards Act offers legal protections for workers in non-unionized workplaces, but those protections are far inferior to what unionized workers achieve through collective bargaining. And if an employer in a non-unionized workplace breaks the law, it’s up to the worker—or TAPS—to hold them to account, whereas unionized workers have a union backing them up. That’s why TAPS uses every client encounter as a teaching moment. “When I talk to workers, they often don’t even know what a union is. And those who do might have a negative impression of them,” comments Portman. “But when we back these workers up and win, they feel powerful again. That’s when we can have a conversation about what better looks like—and that’s with a union.”

UFCW 1518 supports the important work TAPS does for non-unionized workers, as part of the union’s fairness mandate and organizing strategy. Portman recounts the story of a UFCW 1518 community health worker who helped bring the union to her workplace. “They decided to organize because their boss, who was a male boss, was treating them like dirt every day. It wasn’t about the money. It wasn’t about occupational health and safety. It was about respect and dignity,” Portman explains. “That’s something the Employment Standards Act doesn’t buy you. Only the power of a collective body against an employer can do that. It’s a beautiful cliché, but there’s strength in numbers. And that’s why unions matter.”

It’s a beautiful cliché, but there’s strength in numbers. And that’s why unions matter.



Non-unionized workers are vulnerable workers. Yet, some of them are more so than others. Last year, sexual assault centres and worker rights organizations in Victoria began noticing a trend among workers seeking support after being victims of sexual harassment incidents at work. The majority were women working in the service industry: the staff serving food at restaurants and pouring drinks at bars and clubs in the city. As these organizations tried their best to support these workers, they arrived at a second realization: there was a gap in resources available to address this common experience. That’s how May I? Service Industry Sexualized Violence Prevention was born.

May I? is a young but ambitious organization looking to open up the conversation about sexualized violence in the workplace and challenge its normalization. “A big part of the problem comes from the power dynamics engrained in the industry and the sense of entitlement in terms of customer service,” explains Kenya Rogers, project coordinator for May I? Having worked in the service industry, Rogers speaks from experience. The demography of the industry adds another layer to the problem: it’s largely gendered. “Eighty percent of servers in BC are women,” she says. “We see men with higher power in the industry but more women occupying serving roles. And there are also other intersections; trans and queer folks are more prone to violence too.”

Unions have been a strong force for acknowledging and addressing sexual violence in the workplace. UFCW Canada has a Women and Gender Equity Committee, which advocates for gender equity and runs educational campaigns against sexual harassment at work. But the service industry is largely non-unionized. Those who are brave enough to come forward and report face an intimidating bureaucratic process, in which they are often re-traumatized and experience minimal chance of seeing justice served.

Feminist and advocacy organizations believe prevention through education is the best tool that service industry workers have for the time being. This is why May I? is developing specialized curriculum that addresses issues specific to the industry. “Our intention is to bring a conversation about sexualized violence, bystander intervention and employee rights, so that we can foster a culture of consent and ensure all employees are protected and feel safer,” says Rogers.

About 40 percent of Canadian women report being victims of sexualized violence. [1] About 20 percent report experiencing harassment at work.[2] That’s why working women need unions. “As a survivor of sexualized violence, I think it is so valuable when folks like UFCW 1518 see the work we do as important,” adds Rogers. “That in itself creates a culture where this work matters and that contributes to broader changes in society. It is exciting to see unions taking leadership on this.”


A hopeless but last resort for workers experiencing abuse on the job is to quit. Unfortunately, for about 310,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada, leaving their employer is not a viable option. [3]

Established in 1973, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program allows Canadian employers to hire foreign workers to fill temporary labour shortages. Migrant workers arriving in Canada under this program are tied to one job, one employer and one location. That’s problematic, says Susanna Allevato Quail of the Migrant Workers Centre. “There’s an extreme power imbalance between migrant workers and management. Not only are they employees, but employers actually have the ability to decide whether they can stay in Canada or not. If they are sexually harassed, if they don’t get paid overtime and they speak up and get fired, not only are they unemployed but they have to return home. So when these workers are abused they have to think: do I stick it out or do I leave the country?”

The Migrant Workers Centre is a non-profit organization that facilitates access to justice for migrant workers through the provision of legal information, advice and representation. Since 1976, they have been fighting the inadequate labour laws governing migrant workers and their poor enforcement. In addition to the abuse temporary foreign workers experience at work, Allevato Quail says the system also perpetuates their exploitation. “Almost without exception, all TFWs we see have paid a fee to get a job, and in BC and in Canada that is illegal.” Fees are exorbitant too, ranging from $10,000 to $20,000. Changing an employer to escape abuse at work is not an option for most; applying for a new work permit takes about six months, during which time migrant workers are not eligible for income assistance.

The labour movement cares about the challenges facing non-unionized migrant workers. The Canadian Labour Congress has long been advocating for comprehensive measures to be taken to better protect migrant workers’ rights, including the establishment of a federal Migrant Workers’ Commission. In BC, some progress was made last year after the NDP government passed the Temporary Foreign Workers Protection Act. This legislation will create a registry of TFW employers and recruitment agencies so that they can be actively monitored and it will impose tougher penalties to those breaking the law. When the playing field is so steeply slanted however, unions remain the only answer.
Organizing the largely non-unionized migrant worker community has historically been a challenge: most are women, many speak no English, and the work is seasonal. Fear of retribution is one of the biggest barriers, says Kassandra Cordero, former UFCW 1518 member and current Director of Equity and Human Rights at the BC Federation of Labour. “Oftentimes these workers live on the premises owned by the employer, where there aren’t clear legalities about visitors. So a union organizer can show up to the gate of a farm and be denied access,” she explains. “Another challenge is the precarity of the work. If a group of workers gets organized then they can be blacklisted from the organization that sent them and be discriminated by employers.”

A unionized collective agreement that makes a pathway to residency is so important to providing justice.

Despite these difficulties, however, UFCW 1518 took on the challenge of organizing farmworkers who were being brought to BC from Mexico under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. In 2008, the union won the first certification of migrant SAWP workers, and went on to organize workers at two additional farms over the next two years. Outside of BC, UFCW 1118 in Alberta and UFCW 832 in Manitoba have won the right for temporary foreign workers to be sponsored for residency under the provincial nominee program. “If these workers were given residency, they would be able to contribute in meaningful ways to the community and employers wouldn’t have anything to hold against them to exploit them and drive down wages,” asserts Cordero. “A unionized collective agreement that makes a pathway to residency is so important to providing justice.”

Amazon workers who are less valued than robots, labour laws that don’t protect workers, women sexually harassed at work, and exploited migrant workers are proof that where employers are left unchecked, unfairness thrives. “Unions have fought hard for a voice at work and for fairness in the workplace,” Secretary-Treasurer Johnson says. “But we can’t stop. Unions and our collective agreements are under constant attack from right wing governments and powerful corporate forces. We’ve got to keep fighting to protect those gains, and to bring the rights and protections of the union to all workers.”

[1] http://sacha.ca/resources/statistics
[2] https://globalnews.ca/news/4771481/women-workplace-harassment-stats-canada/
[3] https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/180129/dq180129b-eng.htm


Menstrual products should be free. Period.

Nobody should have to choose between feeding their family and affording basic hygiene products but that’s a choice many British Columbians have to make every month. Periods are a fact of life but the cost of menstrual products is prohibitive to many: street-affected girls and women, and those living in poverty; transwomen experiencing social stigma; and single mothers struggling to feed their children.

That’s why UFCW 1518 has joined the call for a Period Promise for menstrual equity, along with other unions and labour organizations in British Columbia. The United Way of the Lower Mainland’s Period Promise campaign aims to reduce the isolation created by period poverty by collecting products for those in need.

“It’s unacceptable that a basic necessity is unavailable to some people because of their socioeconomic status,” said Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Johnson. “As leaders in our communities, unions are well positioned not only to help provide those products, but to push for social change. Toilet paper is free. Menstrual products should be as well.”

The Period Promise collection campaign runs from March 7 to April 4 across British Columbia. UFCW 1518 has set up a donation box in the union’s main office in New Westminster, and has encouraged stewards to start a collection in their workplaces. But, says Secretary-Treasurer Johnson, charity is not a longterm solution. “We’re only going to solve this problem by pushing for policy change. The only way to reduce the stigma around period poverty is to ensure that menstrual products are free and accessible in the community.”

The union affirmed its commitment by signing the Period Promise Policy Agreement and has been providing free menstrual products to members and staff in the union since January.

Click here to take action and make your Period Promise today.