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The previous collective agreement expired in July, 2017; bargaining for the current four-year contract has lasted more than eight months.

Unionized workers at the Vancouver Art Gallery have issued a strike notice and could walk off the job as of next Monday.

The union is asking for higher wages and says gallery managers are pursuing “major concessions” affecting sick pay and overtime. “This has left us with no choice but to move forward with job action,” a release issued on Monday states.

The strike notice comes a few days after the VAG announced a $40-million single donation to build a new gallery. That event last Wednesday also included the announcement of millions of dollars of additional private financing for a new building, bringing total funding for the project to $135-million to date.

The following day, unionized employees received an offer from gallery management: a 4-per-cent wage increase over four years, according to the union. The contract offer also includes cuts to sick leave and what the union calls major changes to long-standing scheduling practices.

“It was a slap in the face; I was very upset about it,” CUPE Local 15 president Warren Williams says about the offer being made the day after the triumphant announcement. “It didn’t show me at all that they value their employees.”

The previous collective agreement expired in July, 2017; bargaining for the current four-year contract has lasted more than eight months. The two sides are scheduled to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday. The union, which had originally said it could walk off the job as early as Thursday, now says it will be in a legal strike position as of Monday.

The action would involve more than 200 employees, including clerical, administrative and front-of-house workers, including gift-shop staff. It also includes the workers who install art; a blockbuster exhibition French Moderns: Monet to Matisse 1850-1950 is scheduled to open on Feb. 16. “We are ready to go,” Mr. Williams says.

In the event of a strike, the gallery says it would remain open.

Mr. Williams calls the VAG’s offer “pitiful” – with a 2-per-cent increase upon ratification, a 1-per-cent increase effective on July 1, 2019, and an additional 1-per-cent increase the following year. On Friday, according to Mr. Williams, management increased its offer to a 1.25-per-cent increase on July 1, 2019, and 1.25 per cent on July 1, 2020.

He also says the gallery is making changes to sick pay; under the agreement, a union member on sick leave would receive 100 per cent of their pay for the first 10 days, and after that 63 per cent of their pay.

“When you’re at your worst and need it the most, they say ‘no we’re not going to support you’ and they’re going to take money away,” Mr. Williams says.

In a statement sent to The Globe and Mail on Monday, the VAG says it “continues to engage in a collaborative and respectful bargaining process” and “monetary discussions are ongoing and we are continuing the bargaining process in good faith as we all work towards an agreement that will benefit both parties.”

Separately, the gallery’s popular café will be closing this spring. A sign at the entrance informs patrons the café will close at the end of April, and reopen in the summer under new management.

Café owner Murray Jamieson, who has operated the space since 1994, says his long-term lease expired in January, 2015. After receiving several extensions, he says he stopped getting responses to e-mail inquiries sent to gallery management. He gave his notice on May 31, 2018. He says it is unclear what will happen with the space once his operation leaves.

“People are freaking out; customers,” he says. “We have people who come there every day.”

When asked about plans for the café, VAG spokesperson Johanie Marcoux said in an e-mail, “Gallery visitors can continue to expect the same high level of quality food services as we move through this transition process.”