As B.C. cannabis stores brace for emptier shelves in the midst of a strike by some provincial public servants, a second group of public servants could soon hit the picket lines as well.
The Professional Employees Association (PEA) issued a 72-hour strike notice to the Public Service Agency at noon on Wednesday. The union represents 1,200 licensed professionals, including government engineers, foresters, geoscientists, pharmacists, psychologists, veterinarians, and more.
“It’s time for the B.C. government to invest in the workers who provide the services that the province relies on,” said Melissa Moroz, labour relations officer for the PEA, in a news release.
“These licensed professionals are taking job action because they want to see the cost of living addressed at the bargaining table.”
The strike notice comes days after the B.C. General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) began its own strike on behalf of about 33,000 public service workers, including wildfire firefighters, correctional officers, administration staff, and workers at the BC Liquor and Cannabis stores.
It too cited inflation and cost of living as a driver of the job action.
“It’s not just about what the percentage wage increase is, a key piece of what this agreement needs to entail is protecting those wage increases against rising rates of inflation,” BCGEU president Stephanie Smith told Global News on Tuesday.
“It isn’t anything that comes out of left field, this is something that every MLA in Victoria is afforded … their wages are tied to rates of inflation.”
The BCGEU public servants set up picket lines at four BC Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB) wholesale and distribution centres Monday. Retail liquor and cannabis stores are not part of the strike launched over wages, but the cannabis division of the Burnaby customer care centre is part of the job action, the union said.
The PEA won’t reveal details of its planned strike action, but said it is coordinating with the BCGEU. Its bargaining with the Public Service Agency began on April 11, but reached an impasse on May 16 when wage proposals “failed to address” rising costs of living.
The province’s last offer, it told Global News, was a wage increase of 1.75 per cent plus 0.25 cents per hour in first year, followed by increases of two per cent in the second and third years. The licensed professionals are seeking a raise of 5 per cent each year for three years, or a cost-of-living adjustment — whichever is higher.
“These licensed professionals rebuild bridges and roads, monitor B.C.’s forests and agriculture, and provide care to the province’s most vulnerable youth,” said Moroz.
“We need their expertise more than ever to help keep the province safe.”
Global News has reached out to the B.C. finance minister for comment on the PEA strike notice.
In response to the BCGEU action earlier this week, B.C. Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon said the province remains “committed to the collective bargaining process and to reaching a fair and reasonable agreement.”
In a statement last week, the PSA also said critical services will continue to be available to the public throughout the strike, through processes required by the BC Labour Relations Board.
“We all want to see workers who are delivering our vital services with more money in their pockets sooner rather than later,” the PSA wrote.
Meanwhile, with the BCGEU strike underway, the BC Liquor Distribution Branch said its cannabis distribution centre will not accept or ship products, assemble orders, or process invoices or purchase orders.
“We sincerely apologize for this disruption and for the impact to your business,” it wrote in a note to stores published on its website.
The province was preparing to allow cannabis stores to accept direct deliveries of products from licensed producers long before the strike began, but until those deliveries start, stores have no choice but to get their products from the BCLDB.
Vikram Sachdeva estimates his B.C. chain of Seed and Stone stores has a good supply of products right now, but that could quickly change if the strike drags on.
“I’m hoping that we can survive for a week or a little bit longer, but beyond that point, it’s going to be very difficult,” he said.
Sachdeva wishes stores were notified earlier about the delivery stoppage, so they could have stocked up on products.
“It just came as a bit of a shock and…now the concern is how long before they start delivering to us so that we don’t start running out of products?” he said.
He added he will be disappointed if he has to turn away consumers for lack of product, especially if they are seeking cannabis for medical reasons. He also fears consumers may turn to the still popular illicit market if they can’t find cannabis stores with stock left.
— with files from The Canadian Press’s Tara Deschamps