The union representing roughly 33,000 staff in the B.C. Public Service Agency issued a 72-hour strike notice to the government employer on Friday.
The employees, including wildfire firefighters, correctional officers, administration staff, and workers at the BC Liquor and Cannabis stores, have previously cited skyrocketing inflation and wage protection as among their primary concerns.
“Our members have been crystal clear since day one that their priority this round of bargaining was cost of living protection for their wages,” BCGEU president Stephanie Smith said in a Friday news release.
“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.”
Nearly 95 per cent of impacted the BCGEU members voted in favour of a strike in June, as inflation soared past eight per cent.
The most recent collective agreement between the union and Public Service Agency expired on April 1, with negotiations for a new agreement beginning on Feb. 8. Bargaining reached an impasse on April 6.
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 proposal featured increases of five per cent or inflation — whichever is higher — in 2022 and in 2023.
According to the union, July talks with the employer “quickly broke down” as well. “Exploratory discussions” were held earlier this week with the Public Service Agency, but the union’s bargaining committee unanimously decided a return to the table would “not be fruitful.”
In a statement, the B.C. Public Service Agency said it respects the union’s prerogative to take job action, and that it was committed to a fair deal that leaves “workers who are delivering our vital services with more money in their pockets sooner rather than later.
“While it is uncertain how the union might initiate strike action, critical services will still be available for people,” the agency added.
“Before any job action can begin, processes required through the Labour Relations Board set essential service levels, ensuring that critical services for people continue.”
In an internal government email shared with Global News, Public Service Agency Deputy Minister Bobbi Sadler said it is “entirely up to the BCGEU what form the strike action will take.”
“The BC Labour Relations Board (LRB) has set interim essential services levels to protect immediate and serious impacts to the health, safety and welfare of British Columbians in the event of a strike,” she wrote.
“Under the LRB process unions have the responsibility for scheduling employees who have been designated as essential.”
The email then provides contact information for public servants with questions about the next steps.
Job action could begin as soon as 2:46 p.m. on Monday. In its Friday email, the BCGEU said it will not reveal what form the action will take.
Global News has reached out to B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson for comment on this story. She has previously said the government respects the collective bargaining process, including strike votes.
According to the BCGEU, nearly 400,000 public sector workers have agreements that will expire, or already have expired this year.
— with files from Richard Zussman
Editor’s Note: This is a corrected story. A previously version incorrectly stated that the BCGEU represents firefighters. In fact, it represents wildfire fighters. Global News regrets the error.