Are we choosing sustainability over health care in the City of Vancouver?

I work for the Vancouver Civic Theatres, a company owned by the City of Vancouver.  Like the majority of City of Vancouver workers, I am an auxiliary employee.  This means that no matter the length of my employment at the City and no matter my qualifications, I’m not guaranteed to be scheduled a minimum number of shifts each week, and I do not receive benefits.

The Vancouver Civic Theatres is a company which runs the three theatres owned by the City – the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the Orpheum and the Playhouse.  If you’ve visited any of our theatres in the past, you may have noticed that we have an extremely multi-generational staff.  Employee ages range from 20-70 years old.

I’m young – in my late twenties – and going through the process of choosing an extended health care provider.  In doing so, I can’t help but sympathize for my co-workers who must have also done the same in previous years.  It’s challenging to decide on which provider to choose for reasons of cost and benefit.  Although a number of our employees are retirees receiving pensions from other companies, there are some older employees whose livelihood comes from working at the theatres.  Without receiving benefits, I can’t imagine how challenging it is for them to budget for their needs.

The City of Vancouver is hailed as one of the top 50 employers in British Columbia.  This is largely due to the fact that they offer amazing, forward-thinking benefits to its part-time and full-time employees.  But for the majority of us who work at the Parks and Recreations Board, Civic Theatres and the Vancouver Public Library are classified as auxiliary, which means that we don’t have access to those benefits.

I just find it so ironic that in Vancouver, where the focus of the city seems to be on sustainability – preventative measures to improve what life will look like in the future – our current standard of living is being compromised.  Somewhere down the road, a decision must have been made to shift Vancouver’s focus from promoting health care to promoting sustainability.  I’m just not sure that we needed to move all the way towards one side and not the other.

Geraldine Sangalang is at the beginning of her Human Resources career and is seeking her first full-time position. She volunteers with the BC HRMA, the Canadian Cancer Association and the Terry Fox Foundation.  On her private time, Geraldine loves scrapbooking, hiking, kayaking, and enjoying the company of friends on a local patio.


6 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by HR Advice: HR Advice: said: Are we choosing sustainability over health care in the City of Vancouver?- […]

  2. Hi Geraldine,
    I just have a couple of comments about providing benefits to auxiliary employees. I don’t work for the City of Vancouver but I do work for another municipality and I have hired employees for a performing arts theatre. In that case, most employees were only required to work during performances – and as performances were not scheduled on a regular basis, we were unable to guarantee a minimum number of shifts, therefore the employees only had auxiliary status.

    As for offering benefit coverage, it is often the carriers that restrict eligibility to full or part time employees. For the City of Vancouver, benefits are negotiated between the union and the employer. And in any negotiation, trade-offs are made. Instead of receiving benefit coverage, auxiliary employees receive 12% – 16% extra pay. Historically, people interested in auxiliary work often had benefit coverage through parents, spouses, or pension plans and preferred to receive a bit extra pay. This may no longer be the case given current economic realities – and would appropriately be discussed during the next round of negotiations.

  3. Hi Cindy,

    Thanks so much for your comment, and I apologize for the delay in my response! It seems that I move just a little slower when the weather gets warmer than 21 degrees …

    I appreciate that you’ve commented, especially coming with your background in working for a municipality. In regards to your first point, that employees are only granted auxiliary status because the number of shifts that are available, you are absolutely right – it makes sense that bartenders (for example) are auxiliary employees because they cannot be guaranteed to work unless a company rents the theatre.

    However, in the City of Vancouver, even office staff who are scheduled to work full-time hours throughout the year are classified as auxiliary, and therefore do not receive benefits. During the last round of union negotiations, two office positions were granted full-time status, but there still remains office workers (such as our payroll person) who work full-time hours as auxiliary staff.

    And you are right, the City of Vancouver’s auxiliary employees do earn money in lieu of benefits. I suppose that I believe that this extra pay is insufficient, especially for older workers. Hopefully this will be a topic that is given attention during the union’s future negotiations.

  4. Hi Geraldine, I’m really intrigued in how the City feels about your blog post?

    I pretty much read into it that you’re slagging the City for not recognizing it’s auxiliary employees with benefits… the dig about the irony of it’s being a Top 50 Employer made me cringe a bit, I’ll admit.

    Have you had any feedback?

  5. Hi Stephanie,

    I haven’t had any direct response from the City of Vancouver, no. It would be interesting to hear what their official response to my concern would be.

    It definitely would be interesting … although I suspect any ‘official’ response would be a diversion from the question or a statement referring me to a CUPE collective agreement.

  6. […] particularly memorable piece for me was called “Are we choosing sustainability over health care in the City of Vancouver?”  What I loved about both of these submissions in particular was the volume of dialogue […]

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