by Alanna Johnston
Some 1,000 British Columbia General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) workers went on strike chiefly to obtain a cost of living allowance (COLA) to match inflation. More than 86,000 members of the BCGEU work in both the public and private sectors across the west coast province. The bargaining committee for the public sector component, representing 33,000 members, gave a 72 hour strike notice on August 15 after months of unsuccessful bargaining.
Talks began in February 2022. The contract expired in April. The union asked for a 5 per cent increase per year for a 2 year agreement, or a COLA, whichever turns out to be higher. The employer consistently declined to consider wage increases geared to inflation, effectively insisting on a decrease in pay. The vote was almost 95 per cent in favour of strike action. Support from other employee sectors, including BCTF (teachers), BCNU (nurses) and CUPE1091, is being provided to the strikers.
Job action began by halting liquor and cannabis distribution services. It doesn’t affect retail stores; picket lines are outside liquor distribution centres in Delta, Richmond and Kamloops, as well as the wholesale customer centre in Victoria. The Union says that the cannabis division of the Burnaby customer care centre is included in this strike, although a picket line won’t be set up there.
The evident need to strike in order for workers to keep pace with inflation is especially disheartening, since in February, the provincial New Democratic Party government announced that cabinet ministers, including Premier John Horgan, had effectively authorized a 10 percent pay raise for themselves.
“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 the strike notice today is a message to government that our members are serious.”
(Alanna Johnston is a member of BCGEU.)