This spring, I had the honour of being elected to lead BC’s most diverse union.
The over 67,000 women and men of the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) work in all areas of the province, in a wide variety of roles, making a real difference in their communities.
From childcare to child protection; preventative health care to palliative care; social work to corrections; and so much more – what our members share is a dedication to working together for the benefit of all British Columbians.
As the union that represents these remarkable workers, we owe it to them to not only protect the vital public services they provide, but to continuously work for positive social change. BCGEU members want to belong to a movement that can make progressive new policies that BC needs, such as $10 a day childcare, a reality.
That’s why this Labour Day – my first as BCGEU president – as we celebrate the hard-fought gains the union movement has made for BC and Canada, I’d like to also look forward and talk about what we still have left to do.
Our province and country are faced with growing income inequality – including a gender wage gap of 26 per cent that is frankly, embarrassing. Our young people have the distinction of being the first generation that will be worse off economically than the one that came before.
But the labour movement is in a unique position to change all of that. Hundreds of British Columbians lift themselves out of poverty each year by joining the BCGEU or other unions to achieve collective bargaining rights at their workplace.
The wage increases they gain by working together go right back into their local economies invigorating communities across the province. The increased tax revenues provide funding for the public services that we all rely on.
Just think of the exciting things we could do if we all worked together to ensure that everyone, in all regions of the provinces – regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status – had access to a job where they were paid a living wage and treated with respect.
This is what the labour movement has to offer British Columbians: strong, united and dynamic communities full of people who care for one another.
When we all band together to demand that vital services be publicly available to everyone – not just those who can afford them – we’ll have a whole new set of victories to celebrate each year at the end of August.
Stephanie Smith was elected president of the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) by delegates at the union’s tri-annual convention in May 2014. Stemming from the Community Social Services sector, Stephanie had a long history of leadership and activism within the BCGEU before serving three years as the union’s Treasurer (2011-14). She is the first woman elected president of the BCGEU.