Peer support workers set to join union in Vancouver

Support workers unionize

Dozens of peer support workers on the front lines of Vancouver's overdose crisis are about to be unionized in a move aimed at formally recognizing the role they play in saving lives.

Andrew Ledger, president of CUPE Local 1004, says the workers voted 100 per cent in favour of joining the union last March.

But he says certification has been delayed by several factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic and a challenge to certification filed by the employer, PHS Community Services Society.

PHS Community Services did not immediately respond to an interview request.

Ledger says the Labour Relations Board of British Columbia is expected to issue its official certification this week, affecting about 40 workers.

Peer workers at overdose prevention sites, needle depots and other harm reduction services are employees with experiences similar to those they serve.

Ledger says some have worked for decades without benefits like paid vacation or the ability to collectively negotiate higher wages.

"It's access to benefits, it's acknowledgment of their service, it will establish seniority for these workers, it's job protection. It's all the same rights and benefits that their co-workers receive," Ledger says.

"Those are really important for all workers and I think it's long overdue that these long-serving peer employees receive the same benefits."

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