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BCGEU to hold strike vote for 33,000 public sector employees amid wage impasse

Click to play video: 'BCGEU to conduct strike vote'
BCGEU to conduct strike vote
One of the largest unions in B.C. is conducting a strike vote. The B.C. General Employees Union says negotiations have stalled as the two sides remain far apart and it will begin a strike vote for all 33,000 members in the coming weeks. Richard Zussman has more. – May 6, 2022

One of the largest unions in British Columbia is conducting a provincewide strike vote for 33,000 of members employed in the public sector.

According to the BC General Employees’ Union, negotiations for a new contract with their employer have reached an impasse because of a “significant gap” in wage proposals.

“We’ve been clear from day one that cost of living protection for wages was the key to a deal this round,” said president Stephanie Smith in a Friday news release.

Click to play video: 'BCGEU president on contract negotiations  with the government'
BCGEU president on contract negotiations with the government

“It’s a fair demand and we know government can afford it but the employer tabled two wage proposals that didn’t even get halfway there. ”

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The strike vote, which will begin on May 16, will be conducted over five weeks, with a vote count scheduled for June 22.

The contract expired at the end of March, but negotiations have been underway for weeks.

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The provincial government had offered a wage increase of 1.5 per cent this year, followed by two-per-cent increases in 2023 and 2024. The union had countered with either a five-per-cent or  inflation-based raise — whichever is higher — this year and next.

“We know that the best place to get a deal is at the table, and that is still our goal,” said Smith. “Experience tells us that a strong strike vote can be a very effective way to make that goal a reality.”

Click to play video: 'BC General Employees’ Union plans for strike vote as contract impasse continues'
BC General Employees’ Union plans for strike vote as contract impasse continues

In a written statement, B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson said the government respects “hardworking members of B.C.’s public sector,” and believes agreements will be reached through the collective bargaining process.

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“Part of that process can 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.”

The last public service strike was in 2012 and included pickets of BC Liquor Stores. The union and government are currently discussing essential service levels if another strike takes place.

According to the BCGEU, nearly 400,000 public sector workers have agreements that will, or already have, expired this year.

– With files from Richard Zussman

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