Wildfire season: GLP members deployed

A Look Into the Inequality of Appendix H - Part One

Since 2004 PEA members have been answering the call to help out with disaster response efforts during provincial emergencies. This despite being compensated less than their BCGEU colleagues doing the same work. The Professional reports on the inequality—and what’s being done about it in a two-part series looking at Appendix H and emergency response. This is part one on wildfires.

The 2021 B.C. fire season saw 1,600 fires burning across 8,700 square kilometres of our beautiful province. It was the third worse wildfire season on record, for area impacted. The town of Lytton burned to the ground. Cattle, pets, and wildlife vanished in the flames. People lost their homes, their possessions, their livelihoods.

As the fires raged, the province, as it always does during states of emergency, called upon civil servants to leave their regular jobs and accept two-week deployments to work with the various incident management teams being set up to respond to the crisis.

Based in Prince George and pictured above, Dwayne Anderson was one of several PEA members recruited in 2021. A Timber Pricing Officer who is responsible for the Coastal Mountain District as well as three other districts, Anderson is a notable recruit because he worked with BC Wildfire Services from 1993 to 2016. Most PEA members, like other public servants who volunteer to help in provincial states of emergencies, would be assigned roles such as logistics, communications, or liaisons officers. But because of his expertise, Anderson was taxed with a high-ranking operational role: incident commander.

Fellow PEA member Clayton Bradley, a Range Practices Specialist in West Kelowna, also agreed to leave his regular position and young family to lend his expertise during last summer’s provincial state of emergency. Bradley was recruited specifically because of his experience as a range agrologist who knows the interior region and landscape and has strong relationships with stakeholders. Working directly with the incident commander in the area, Bradley spent his deployment serving as a conduit to the partners on the ground—First Nations, ministries, local government, utility companies, organizations with business interests on the land, and individuals.

PEA members leave their homes and jobs year after year for weeks and sometimes months in service to the province. They witness first-hand the destruction caused by wildfires, floods, and other disasters requiring aid. With shaky voices, they recount the impact of homes and businesses destroyed, like in Lytton or Monte Lake. They share stories of doing everything possible to save animals—pets and livestock—and mourning losses with their owners. They remember individuals they’ve met, remember holding the hands of weeping strangers. And, they grieve for the environment, the flora and fauna ravaged by these acts of God.

In describing the physical and emotional wounds he carries from the Monte Lake fire, Bradley says, “It makes me emotional to think about it. Just trying to deal with it . . . I had a week off before I came back to my regular job, and I felt useless for a week.” He adds, “It takes its toll. You don’t realize it until it’s over.”

There are a lot of talented people who would like to participate, but because of the current situation with compensation, they don't. Rosalie MacAulay

Part of TEAMS
The majority of PEA members who respond to the call for help during emergencies do so through the province’s Temporary Emergency Assignment Management System (TEAMS), which connects public servants with emergency response teams in times of need.

Rosalie MacAulay, a Registered Professional Forester who works as a Business Relations Officer for BC Timber Sales for the Coast, has been a member of TEAMS since 2004, the first year PEA members were eligible. In 2021, she spent more than two months away from home, helping BC Wildfire Services in 100 Mile House, Lillouet, Salmon Arm, and Oliver.

“I’ve continued to be part of TEAMS because I want to help people and work with the communities,” MacAuley explains.

In 2021, she served as an Information Officer, providing communities, stakeholders, and media with updates on the emergency as well as listening to the concerns and fears of the community.

Typically, TEAMS members work 14 days on and get three days off. The shifts are long and arduous; it’s not unusual for a day’s work on a TEAMS deployment to last 16 hours.

Members live in army camp-like conditions, often sleeping in tents set up near the disaster area. Living in a state of constant high alert, most of these workers experience above-average levels of stress and strain for the duration of their deployment.

The inequality of Appendix H
Being a member of TEAMS is a sacrifice. It’s hard work; it’s emotionally and physically taxing; and it’s high stress.

And for PEA members, volunteering for TEAMS has an additional strain: inequality rooted in Appendix H.

TEAMS members who are part of BCGEU are compensated significantly differently than PEA members doing the same work, side by side. The inequality adds a moral burden to the conscience of every PEA member wanting to help British Columbians in times of need.

History of TEAMS and PEA
The roots of the inequality date back to 2004, when members of the PEA’s Government Licenced Professionals were first recruited for emergency response work. The previous year, following a devasting fire season in Kelowna, the province vowed to recruit more public servants in times of emergency. PEA members responded positively to the call, and Appendix H, “Professional Employee Recognition for Leave for Meritorious Service in Response to Emergencies” became part of the collective agreement.

From the start, Appendix H had issues. PEA members tried to address the inequalities in bargaining over the years but were unsuccessful. Now, the PEA is addressing the problems with Appendix H outside of bargaining.

At issue is compensation and fairness.

First, PEA members are compensated one hour for one hour when a Provincial State of Emergency (level 4) is declared by the province. In contrast, BCGEU members are compensated at time and one-half for the first two hours of overtime on a workday, then double-time, as well as double-time for hours on a non-work day.

If the state of emergency is a level one, two, or three, PEA members are paid their regular wages and work for free after their daily hours are completed and on weekends and statutory holidays. On the other hand, BCGEU members are compensated the same as if it were a level 4 emergency—at time and one-half for the first two hours of overtime on a workday, then double-time, as well as double-time for hours on a non-work day.

Second, even if Appendix H is triggered by the Government, PEA members on TEAMS are instructed to submit their time diaries in December, which, in the case of the summer forest fire season, is several months after they have done the work. Their pay takes an additional few months to process, meaning they might not be paid until May, nearly nine months after they completed the work. Meanwhile, BCGEU members submit their time diaries each pay period and receive their pay on the next pay period. BCGEU members are paid immediately for their work; PEA members wait more than half a year.

I feel that if Appendix H gets fixed to make it fair compensation between both unions, BC Wildfire Services will have additional staff. Nadia Skokun

Deeper than money
While compensation is a key problem for Appendix H, the issue runs deeper. PEA members who want to join TEAMS and contribute to helping people are discouraged from participating.

Anderson, for example, is a former BCGEU member who was part of Wildfire Service for years. Since joining the PEA in 2016, he has continued to do emergency deployments with TEAMS. He says it was an unwelcome surprise to learn about the reduced pay and sacrifice of personal time this would involve, but he’s chosen to stay involved out of a sense of duty.  

 “If there's a provincial emergency, I'm not going to say no,” he says. “To withhold my experience would be detrimental to firefighters and the public.”

For other PEA members—engineers, agrologists, foresters, geoscientists, health professionals and others—the decision may not be so easy.

Says Rosalie MacAulay, “There are a lot of talented people who would like to participate, but because of the current situation with compensation, they don’t. It’s not worth it to give up family life and not receive proper [overtime] for it.”

Recruiting outside the province
In recent years, the province has been challenged to recruit enough skilled British Columbians to help out during emergencies. Instead, it has turned to other provinces and in some cases other countries, such as Australia, to supplement its supply of emergency labour, efforts that come with a high price tag.

In contrast, PEA members have professional expertise that could much more easily, and more affordably, be deployed to protect British Columbians during emergencies. Our members have deep knowledge of the landscape and the communities involved and an abundance of the skills and professionalism required for an effective emergency response. Above all, they possess a strong desire to help and be of service to others.

Unfortunately, as things currently stand, the province is discouraging the involvement of our members because of an unfair and outdated compensation policy.

Speaking up for PEA
Momentum is building to get changes made to Appendix H. In April 2021, Nadia Skokun, a land and resource specialist with the Ministry of Forestry, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, sent a briefing note about the pay inequities out to several MLAs, raising the profile of the issue.

A PEA member since 2006, Skokun joined TEAMS in 2008 to assist on forest fires. Since then, she has continued to accept deployments in planning and logistics, and in 2021 went on two TEAMS deployments, both for fire emergencies. By this time, word about her briefing note had spread.

“People recognized my name, and they showed a lot of support,” Skokun says. “BC Wildfire Services people showed they were aware of the imbalance between PEA and BCGEU members,” she adds.

The 2021 fire season was long and arduous. “People were getting burned out,” Skokun remembers. “I feel that if [Appendix H] gets fixed to make it fair compensation between both unions, BC Wildfire Services will have additional staff. PEA members will sign up.”

Skokun says that, for her own part, she will continue to sign up for TEAMS because she cares. “I am providing valuable support where it’s needed,” she says. “I do it because I love it.”

Improving TEAMS and Appendix H
The advocacy work taking place to amend Appendix H has four objectives:

1. To compensate PEA members for overtime hours in the same fashion as BCGEU members;

2. To apply the above level of compensation during any emergency preparation level—1, 2, 3 or 4;

3. To allow for the timely submission of time diaries for PEA members, resulting in timely payment for services rendered; and

4. To add a new clause that mandates inclusion of PEA members during emergency responses to ensure B.C. professionals are brought in before outside consultants.

Achieving these objectives would benefit the province as a whole. These changes will lead more PEA members to volunteer for TEAMS, leading to less burnout, faster response times, and less money spent to train outsiders, as PEA’s professional staff bring expertise and professionalism to help the province in times of emergency.

Skokun’s briefing note has initiated a province-wide conversation among stakeholders that is needed to make changes to Appendix H. PEA members can join the discussion by connecting with the PEA about the strategy and then engaging with their MLAs and other relevant parties on this important issue.

For the love of community
Each of the four PEA members interviewed for this article revealed, through stories and memories, their passion for the task of supporting their fellow citizens in times of need. It’s what buoyed them through long weeks of strenuous work away from home, terrifying environmental conditions, and emotional and physical traumas. It’s what has motivated each of them to decide that, despite the unequal compensation, they will continue to accept emergency deployments when called upon.

As Anderson says, “When you're done a deployment, you feel like you've accomplished something. You’ve been part of something that is very important. Morally, it's why I help out.”

Example of Appendix H compensation by union

Scenario: A Provincial State of Emergency is declared (and recognition of meritorious service is activated) in July. A PEA member and BCGEU member join TEAMS for one, two-week deployment. Both work the same role, for the same hours: both work 50 hours of overtime in each week (5 extra hours each weekday and 12.5 hours each day on the weekends). The chart below uses a base rate of $37.50 an hour.

 Overtime pay for 100 hours, 50 hours per week

PEA BCGEU
100 hours at $37.50 = $3,750

With time and a half, and double-time calculations for the same amount of time, BCGEU members earn 190 hours at $37.50 for a total of $7,125

This does not include other benefits BCGEU members receive, such as breaks for overtime meals, which would bring the actual amount to over 200 hours.

Submit hours and receive pay

PEA BCGEU
Submit hours in December and receive pay as late as May the following year, nine months after the work was performed. Submit hours in July and receive pay four to six weeks later.

WORDS I JESSICA WOOLARD
FIRST IMAGE LEFT: DWAYNE ANDERSON (CREDIT DARRIN RIGO)
SECOND IMAGE RIGHT: CLAYTON BRADLEY (CREDIT BILLY STEVENS)
VIDEO: DWAYNE ANDERSON (FOOTAGE DARRIN RIGO & EDITING JORDANA WHETTER)

 

In this section

The PEA was formed in 1974, by a group of professionals working in the public sector. The story goes that the founders of the union mortgaged their houses to fund negotiations of the union’s first collective agreement. 

Now, the PEA is BC’s union for professionals. We represent a wide range of professionals including lawyers, foresters, engineers, agrologists, teachers, veterinarians, fundraisers, physiotherapists, pharmacists, psychologists program managers, librarians and more.

Our union is led by the PEA Executive. They represent members from across the chapters of the PEA and set the overall vision and direction for our union.

Resources for our members

Navigating a union can sometime be a challenging process. Under this section of the website you will find resources to help you navigate the PEA. In the members section you'll find expense claim reimbursements, information on the PEA's scholarship and bursary program and our grants and donations program.

Collective bargaining and job action resources explain the process of collective bargaining and what to do in the unlikely event of job action. 

Local reps can also find resources to help them complete their job more effectively. This includes ways to welcome new members, how to take notes in investigation disciplinary meetings and more.

The heart of our union

The PEA is made up of nine chapters, or groups of members who either work for the same employer or are in the same field of work. Each chapter has an elected executive tasked with running the affairs of the chapter. Each chapter is entitled to representation at the PEA Executive, the governing body of the union. 

Our members work for a range of employers: the Province of BC, the University of Victoria, St. Margaret's School, the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program, the Oil and Gas Commission, the Law Society of BC, Legal Services Society, the Okangan Regional Library and health authorities across BC.

Professionals need unions now more then ever

Since the 1970’s, when the PEA was formed, our mission has been to ensure our members can work in safe, productive environments and receive fair and reasonable wages and benefits for the valuable work they do. We help individuals and groups of professional workers to understand the challenges they face in their workplaces and some of the solutions available to them. 

We work with potential members to become certified as a union and achieve the wages, benefits and respect they deserve. 

The Professional | Volume 48 Issue 1

The Professional is the PEA's award-winning, quarterly magazine for members.

The Spring 2022 issue takes a deep dive into the work of GLP members and their work during provincial emergencies.

Read the latest issue

 

 

The PEA was formed in 1974 to represent licensed professionals in the BC Public Service. Since then the organization has grown to include a wide range of professionals from across BC. Find our more about our governance, staff and strategic direction.

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