Liquor warehouse workers set to strike on July 3
Unionized workers at Kamloops' Liquor Distribution Branch are set to strike on Tuesday, July 3, as part of a 24-hour work stoppage at three provincial warehouses the B.C. government hopes to privatize.
In Kamloops, members of the B.C. Government Employees Union will set up pickets at the Dallas Drive distribution warehouse between 5:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. Pickets will also go up in Vancouver and Victoria.
Only one government liquor store — which shares space with the Vancouver warehouse — is expected to be affected by the strike.
Beyond that, the union's chief negotiator David Vipond said he's not expecting much disruption to the alcohol trade
"I've heard some radio programs where they've having contests — what are you going to stock up on? There might be a run on some of the liquor stores," he said.
"It may actually improve sales over the long weekend."
The union has been in negotiations with the province since the beginning of the year, and spent two weeks in unsuccessful mediation earlier this month.
Its last contract expired at the end of March
At issue, Vipon said, are wage increases and the plan to privatize the liquor distribution system the B.C. government announced in its last budget.
The union has asked for a 3.5 per cent pay increase the first year and a cost of living increase in the second. The province has offered a two per cent increase this year, and 1.5 per cent the second, with no retroactive pay.
"That's insufficient to keep up with inflation," Vipon said. "We don't want to sign two skinny deals in a row. We did a very skinny one last time, zero and zero wage increases, and that's enough."
The union also argues there's "no business case" for selling off the warehouses and liquor distribution system.
Premier Christy Clark, who was in Kamloops Friday, disagrees.
"Why should government be in the business of driving trucks around and delivering liquor? It's something the private sector can do just as well," she said, though she added the province won't sell the system if it can't get a decent price.
A request for proposals on the privatization closed over the weekend.
Clark said the government has been "really fair" to the union.
"We've said, look, we want to try and allow you to find some savings within the system that you can devote to add to your collective agreement," she said. "But frankly, I am not going back to taxpayers to give a raise to government workers. I just won't do it."
But, Vipon said the union has come up with proposals to increase liquor revenue — including opening government stores to Sunday sales, which he said could bring in another $100 million — only to have them shot down.
Vipon said the government could also make more money if it opened stores in under-served areas, such as downtown Victoria.
"We invite them to run this business like a business," he said.