The BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) is officially on strike Monday, looking to cause long-term restocking issues for liquor and cannabis on day one of their job action at four liquor wholesale/distribution centres, including one in Victoria.
“We’re looking to make sure their wages keep up with inflation,” said James Coccola to CHEK News, executive vice president of BCGEU. “Our members are telling us that life is becoming increasingly difficult under the current wage structures.”
Prior to striking the government says the deal they gave provincial workers included a $2,500 lump sum upfront ‘to help with costs right now and some additional cost of living protections in the final year.’
“We want to ensure that agreements are fair and reasonable, and support the needs of workers, the people of British Columbia and the government’s fiscal plan so that we also have the resources to keep delivering the programs and services that everyone in B.C. depends on,” said Ravi Kahlon, Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation in a statement.
But according to BCGEU members, it wasn’t good enough.
“Yes, we want to see percentage increases for our members that help them catch up the ground that they’ve lost in the past year with inflation, but what we also want are the protections that could be put into place so that there’s some security around those wage increase. The same security that the members of the legislative assembly are afforded,” said Stephanie Smith, president of BCGEU.
Four B.C. liqour distribution or warehouses across the province (Victoria Wholesale Customer Centre, Richmond Distribution Centre, Delta Distribution Centre and Kamloops Distribution Centre) have been chosen as the location of the picket lines as part of the union’s strategy.
“This is a revenue-generating space for government and we also want to make sure we’re not putting the public at risk so we’re being very targeted,” said Coccola.
“We would imagine that there will be other businesses that have interest in ensuring that liquor or cannabis products are distributed through the distribution centres,” said Smith. “We’re hoping that they’ll call on government as well to come back to the table with a meaningful proposal.”
Retail liquor and cannabis stores will not be striking. Neither will those deemed essential services like wildfire firefighters and ministry administration.
In fact, of its 33,000 members ranging from corrections, sheriffs, social workers, to conservation officers, only 1,000 ‘non-essential’ workers are able to walk off the job.
“If you withdraw those services you would have an immediate negative impact on the health and lives or wellbeing of the people of our province,” said Smith.
This is just the beginning. We are fighting for all workers in this province amidst the affordability crisis
— Paul Finch (@paulgfinch) August 15, 2022
When bargaining reached impasse on April 6, union members voted 95 per cent in favour of job action on June 22. But when the parties met again in July, talks quickly broke down, according to the BCGEU.
“Our members have been crystal clear since day one that their priority this round of bargaining was cost of living protection for their wages,” said Stephanie Smith, BCGEU president and chair of the union’s public service bargaining committee.
“The bottom line is they’re not asking for anything that MLAs don’t already have. The strike vote in June and issuing strike notice today is a message to government that our members are serious.”
Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon says the government is “committed” to the collective bargaining process and hopes to reach a “fair and reasonable” agreement.
“Like all British Columbians, we know that public sector workers are concerned about the effects of inflation, and we know this disproportionately impacts those on the lower end of the pay scale,” said Kahlon.”
—With files from The Canadian Press