BCGEU mulls strike after breakdown in talks

Liquor stores, distribution among potential targets for job action

The B.C. Government and Service Employees Union has a strike mandate to take job action up until mid-August.

Picket lines could spring up this summer around liquor stores, court houses and various government offices if the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) goes on strike.

Talks between the province and its largest public sector union broke down June 22 when BCGEU leaders asked mediator Debbie Cameron to book out, citing a stalemate.

Union leaders have yet to issue 72-hour strike notice, but their strike mandate – granted in an 82 per cent vote of members in May – expires in mid-August.

A strike could affect not just government liquor stores but private ones supplied by the Liquor Distribution Branch, whose unionized employees are among the 25,000 government workers who could walk out.

Some job categories, including corrections officers at prisons, child protection workers and some health care workers, would be declared essential services to maintain public safety.

The union could also opt for targeted, rotating strikes, rather than a full walkout.

The province had offered a two per cent pay hike July 1 and another 1.5 per cent next July, along with promises of job security.

Finance Minister Kevin Falcon expressed disappointment and warned that offer would be taken off the table if workers go on strike.

He said the province is following a cooperative gains mandate allowing modest pay hikes provided savings can be found within existing government budgets.

The union, whose members worked the past two years under a net-zero contract,  wants a 3.5 per cent pay hike in the first year and one to match inflation in the second year.

“The government’s last offer would see our members’ pay cheques fall further and further behind inflation,” BCGEU president Darryl Walker said, arguing their pay freeze since 2010 has effectively cut wages by five per cent relative to the cost of living.

The union has suggested using deputy sheriffs for traffic safety in place of RCMP officers and expanding government liquor store services to either save money or generate more revenue to fund pay hikes.