Workers plan to strike at three British Columbia government Liquor Distribution Branch facilities in Vancouver, Victoria and Kamloops early next week after new contract negotiations between the union and the provincial government hit a stalemate.
“We haven’t had a strike since 1988,” said David Vipond, director of negotiations for the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union. “It’s not like we’re strike-happy.”
The union rejected the government’s latest offer, which relied on internal savings to provide wage increases. The government proposed a 2-per-cent wage hike starting July 1, and a 1.5-per-cent increase the following year.
“Although our offer is modest, we feel it is appropriate in the current fiscal environment,” said Finance Minister Kevin Falcon, after the union decided to reject the offer. It is the best the government can do during tough economic times without sacrificing or compromising services to British Columbians, he said.
But it is not enough, Mr. Vipond said. Union members haven’t received a raise since 2009 after agreeing to a wage freeze. Now they expect a 3.5-per-cent increase in the first year.
The union wants to pay for the wage increase by opening 175 liquor stores across the province on Sundays, he said. Currently, these stores remain closed Sunday.
“This is a money-maker,” Mr. Vipond said. The stores would generate more than $100-million annually, he said, which would be more than enough to fund the union’s proposed wage increase.
The government does not see this as a viable option.
Negotiations between the two started about six months ago and included two weeks of mediation. Late last week, the union asked the mediator to book out of talks, citing failure to produce any progress. On Friday, the union issued the 72-hour strike notice for three of the B.C. Government’s Liquor Distribution Branch facilities in the province.
Vancouver’s East Broadway street warehouse employees plan to stop working at 11:30 p.m. on July 2. They will remain off the job for 24 hours. Shorter work stoppages are planned for the next day in a Kamloops warehouse and a Victoria customer centre.
Only the liquor store housed near the Vancouver warehouse is to be closed. All other liquor stores will remain open during their regular business hours.
The union does not want the strike to close all the liquor stores in the province and hurt revenue, Mr. Vipond said. He said that action would only force the government into a worse bargaining position.
“We hope that this is enough to catch their attention and go back and settle.”