Close to 95 per cent of BC General Employees’ Union members employed in the public service have voted to strike, citing skyrocketing inflation and the need for cost of living-based wage protection.
The vote involved some 33,000 members, including B.C. firefighters, correctional officers, administration staff, government employees and workers at the BC Liquor and Cannabis stores.
As the vote held between May 16 and June 22 wrapped up, the employer asked BCGEU back to the bargaining table, the union said in a Wednesday news release.
“I couldn’t be happier with this strong result,” said Stephanie Smith, BCGEU president and chair of its bargaining committee. “But it was the lead-up — the five weeks of intensive organizing, pop-up voting sites and mail-in ballot-collecting — that really forced the public service agency to change its tune.”
The parties will return to the negotiating table on June 27.
Inflation soared past eight per cent in B.C. on Wednesday.
The BCGEU’s deal with the Public Service Agency expired on April 1, with government and union negotiators far apart on wage increases.
The province had tabled an offer with increases of 1.5 per cent in 2022, two per cent in 2023, and two per cent in 2024. The BCGEU’s offer featured increases of five per cent or inflation — whichever is higher — in 2022 and in 2023.
Earlier Wednesday, Premier John Horgan said he was “confident” the province would be able to “hammer out” a solution at the bargaining table.
“We are in negotiations with hundreds of thousands of public sector employees, not just the BCGEU, but health care workers and others, education, teachers, education workers,” he said.
“So we are doing our best to keep the wage costs down but also acknowledging that in a time of high inflation and a time of uncertainty that the expectations at the bargaining table are going to be high. But bargaining is what it is and strike votes are a part of that.”
In a previous statement, B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson said the government respects the collective bargaining process and part of the process can always include a union taking a strike vote.
“I respect their prerogative to do that in any round of negotiations,” she wrote.
“The best agreements are worked out at the table. Leaving discussions at the table allows the parties who are negotiating to focus on reaching settlements.”
British Columbia saw it’s last public service strike in 2012, which included pickets of BC Liquor Stores.
Smith has previously said a strike vote does not necessarily mean a strike; job action could start as an overtime ban or work to rule.
On Wednesday, she said she hopes the invitation to return to the bargaining table is a sign the employer is ready to table a “serious offer.”
“Our goal has always been to get a deal at the bargaining table, if the employer is not fair and reasonable, members are prepared to action their strike vote in the future.”
According to the BCGEU, nearly 400,000 public sector workers have agreements that will expire, or already have expired this year.
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