08/29/2012 10:56 EDT | Updated 10/29/2012 05:12 EDT

BC Union Strike: Government Workers To Strike Next Week


VANCOUVER - It will be tough sledding for anyone trying to do business with the B.C. government next Wednesday as thousands of its unionized workers are set to walk off the job.

The unions representing 27,000 workers said its members will stage a one-day strike on Sept. 5, closing down almost 1,800 worksites in 153 communities across the province.

It means government liquor stores and offices which deliver everything from forestry permitting and employment support to marriage licences will be behind picket lines.

Transportation, such as highways and B.C. Ferries, will not be effected by the strike.

The majority of the striking members are from the B.C. Government and Service Employee Union, while workers from the Professional Employees Association and Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union will also be taking part in the one-day job action.

COPE members of Local 378 who work for the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia will join the strike because 27 of its ICBC worksites are connected to Service B.C. offices, which supply a variety of government services to the public.

The Professional Employees Association, which represents over 1,200 licensed professionals in B.C.’s public service, including mines inspectors, forest research scientists, bridge engineers, foresters and more, will also take part in the strike action next Wednesday.

There has been little progress in negotiations between the province and union for a new collective agreement and union officials in Vancouver said Wednesday there haven't been contract talks for two months.

The union has been without a contract since last March.

BCGEU workers already held brief strikes over the summer, shutting down some Forest Ministry offices and liquor distribution branches.

BCGEU President Darryl Walker told reporters his members haven't had a wage increase in more than three years and they are falling behind the rest of Canada.

"Non-union workers across Canada can expect wage increases of 3.2 per cent on average next year according to an annual survey," said Walker.

"We think that we are being reasonable if that's what non-union folks are going to expect," he said, referring to the recent survey.

The last government offer to the unions was a 2 per cent wage increase with an additional 1.5 per cent in the next year.

But the Walker said the unions want that raise all at once followed by a cost of living increase the next year.

He said the government isn't listening and next week's one-day action is meant to compel it to come back to negotiations.

B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond, who took over responsibility for public sector bargaining after Finance Minister Kevin Falcon's departure on Wednesday, said she wasn't surprised by the job action.

"While disappointing, this job action is to be expected and is a normal part of the bargaining process. I expect we'll see further job action across the public sector throughout the fall," Bond said in a statement.

"It is irresponsible for the union to be asking for further wage increases given the uncertain world economic situation."

B.C. Chamber of Commerce president John Winter hinted the unions have brought the bargaining difficulties on themselves.

"The labour unions were vehemently opposed to HST, killing the government's ability to fund a lot of things including employees," said Winter.

"Yet here they are looking for more money. It's rather ironic."

COPE 378 President David Black said the shortage of funds didn't stop management at ICBC from taking home large pay increases.

Black pointed to an audit of the publicly-owned auto insurer released earlier this month that showed wages for management personnel increased up to 70 per cent since 2007.

"Meanwhile, unionized workers at ICBC haven't seen a wage increase since 2009," said Black.

Black said his union has been in a strike position since April and he accuses the government of ignoring their concerns and purposely delaying negotiations.

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