One-day BCGEU strike may be followed by more
Liquor stores went dark and the pavement in front of government offices took a pounding on Wednesday, Sept. 5, as about 1,000 members of the B.C. Government Employees Union (BCGEU) and the Professional Employees Association (PEA) took part in a provincewide one-day strike.
Doug Kinna, a member of the BCGEU’s provincial executive, said about 900 of the 1,100 union members in the Kamloops area took part in the job action. The rest were deemed essential-services providers.
“We don’t want to put anybody at risk with us doing a job action, so all of child protection is in, income assistance, probation, the jail is fully staffed, the commercial-vehicle safety enforcement and the scale are all operating at 100 per cent,” Kinna told KTW.
“We’re trying to focus our action against the government, trying to get their attention.”
The union’s contract expired on March 31 and workers have been under provisions of that contract ever since, with wages being the main sticking point in negotiations.
While the government has offered a 3.5 per cent pay raise over two years, the union is seeking a 3.5 bump in the first year and a cost of living raise in the second year.
Kinna said the union has also put forward two proposals that could result in $300-million in cost-savings and extra revenue for the government, which he said would more than pay for the wage increase.
Both were rejected.
“I can’t understand why they don’t pick up that money,” he said.
“They don’t have to increase taxes. They don’t have to increase the deficit. It’s just money that’s there and they’ve turned their backs on it.”
Walking the picket line at the Northills Liquor Store, Local 505 chairman Karl Wolfe said he doesn’t think the demand is unreasonable.
“What I think is the most remarkable is that the public coming in for the last week or two, they understand,” he said. “We haven’t had a wage increase in years. We’ve fallen behind times.”
“The general public seems to be on our side,” Kinna added. “We’re getting support. And, I think they understand we’re not trying to inconvenience them. We’re not trying to push on the public.”
Kinna, who also sits on the BCGEU’s bargaining committee, said members will meet again next week to plan their next step.
“We’re hoping this is enough to get the government to come back to the table and negotiate fairly,” he said, adding more strike action could come “if this doesn’t get their attention.”
But, Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Terry Lake doesn’t think the strike is likely to change the government’s position on wages.
“I would not expect that to happen,” he said.
“The economy is in a fragile state. We’re doing well here, but we can’t take our eye off the ball here, which is to get a balanced budget and provide affordable government for British Columbians.”
Lake believes the current offer from the province is “reasonable” and, while he hasn’t examined the union’s money-making propositions, he said he’s skeptical there is much extra cash to be found.
“I think the average British Columbia would say we are all in this together and we have to keep the price of government affordable for families,” Lake said.
Along with the BCGEU, 119 PEA members were also on the picket lines.
The union represents foresters, engineers, mine inspectors and other licensed professionals working for the province. Like the BCGEU, its members last had a pay raise in 2009.