As a B.C. public service strike reaches its 10th day, 19 allied groups representing the province’s hospitality, tourism, liquor and cannabis retail businesses are pressing for a swift resolution.
In a letter to Premier John Horgan and the BC General Employees’ Union, the stakeholder groups say the strike has caused product shortages “with severe impacts” on revenue.
“We support the right of government employees to bargain collectively, but the decision by the BCGEU to target liquor distribution centres drags the province’s hospitality, tourism, liquor and cannabis industries into a dispute that has nothing to do with us,” it reads.
It deals “yet another crushing blow” to the industries, which have only just begun to recover from the impacts of the pandemic, the signatories add.
The BCGEU represents some 33,000 public service workers who are fighting for wage protection against inflation and rising costs of living, including wildfire firefighters, correctional officers, administration staff, and more.
The job action, which includes workers at some government-run liquor and cannabis distribution warehouses, has stemmed the flow of products to many bars, restaurants, pubs and private cannabis retailers.
The union was invited back to the bargaining table by the employer, the BC Public Service Agency, on Monday. The strike will continue during negotiations to keep the “pressure” on the government, it said Tuesday.
Both parties have agreed to a media and communications “blackout” while the bargaining process is underway.
Meanwhile, the letter signatories say picket lines are still set up outside warehouses, restaurants, event venues, nightclubs and hotels, preventing retailers from picking up previously placed orders or placing new ones. Provincial regulations, they explain, prevent licensees and retailers from receiving direct delivery of many liquor and cannabis products, or from picking the products up themselves in many cases.
The signatories include the Alliance of Beverage Licensees of B.C., the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the B.C. Hotel Association, Restaurants Canada, and the Tourism Industry Association of BC.
“Should this strike continue, our industries will unfairly bear the brunt of serious economic consequences, including business closures and layoffs, cancelled events such as concerts and weddings, loss of consumer confidence, and damage to B.C.’s reputation among tourists and consumers,” they write.
Last Friday, the province announced rations at its liquor stores, limiting customer purchases to no more than three bottles or six-packs of a single kind of beverage, with the exception of beer.
On Monday, the union turned up the heat, calling on its members to refuse all non-emergency overtime, apart from BC Wildfire Service staff.
In a news release, the 19 industry groups said some of their businesses are considering layoffs as early as next week. In the letter, they told the premier and BCGEU they would “not accept becoming collateral damage” in the labour dispute.
“As both parties return to the negotiating table, we ask you to put the interests of British Columbia first and resolve your differences immediately to prevent further losses and impacts to the hospitality and tourism sector,” the said.
“As an act of good faith, we also urge for the removal of picket lines while negotiations are ongoing.”
On Tuesday, the BCGEU said the invite back to the bargaining table was a “significant development” and “direct result of the pressure” its members have applied.
“I welcome the news that the BCGEU has accepted the Public Service Agency’s invitation to return to the bargaining table,” Finance Minister Selina Robinson added in a Tuesday statement.
“I am hopeful that talks this week will lead to a fair and reasonable collective agreement for members, the people of British Columbia and our government’s fiscal plan so that we also have the resources to continue delivering the services and support that everyone in B.C. depends on.”
Editor’s Note: This is a corrected story. An earlier version incorrectly stated that the strike affects all government-run distribution centres and that wildfire fighters were striking.