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27,000 B.C. provincial employees set for one-day strike

Darryl Walker, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union, says the union’s goal is to win a ‘fair, decent and reasonable’ collective agreement.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

An estimated 27,000 B.C. government workers from three unions will strike next Wednesday, impacting a multitude of work sites across the province, including hospital services, liquor stores and call centres at the Insurance Corp. of B.C.

The one-day strike affects about 25,000 workers from the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU). About 1,250 Professional Employees Association (PEA) workers and 780 from the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union Local 378 (COPE 378) will also walk out. The three unions will strike at 1,785 government work sites in 153 B.C. communities, the union heads announced at a news conference on Wednesday.

Citing examples of work sites that will be affected, BCGEU president Darryl Walker said that government-run liquor stores and Ministry of Forests permit offices will be closed. And, added COPE 378 president David Black, it will take longer than usual to process a claim at ICBC.

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The "health, safety and welfare of British Columbians will not be impacted," as essential service levels will be maintained, Mr. Walker said.

For the BCGEU, the action is the latest in a series of targeted, one-day strikes held over the summer. Wednesday will mark the union's highest escalation of job action – the first general strike in more than 20 years.

"We do not take this action lightly," Mr. Walker said.

"We're striking because we're looking for a fair and reasonable agreement with this government and we believe the government of B.C. is not listening to us."

The BCGEU has been without a contract since March 31. The union is asking for a 3.5-per-cent wage increase in the first year of a new contract and a cost-of-living increase in the second, while the government has offered 2 per cent in the first year and 1.5 per cent in the second. The union rejected the offer, which the government then rescinded when job action began.

Meanwhile, unionized workers at ICBC haven't seen a wage increase since 2009, Mr. Black said. They have been in a strike position since April, employing targeted job action such as banning overtime, distributing leaflets at service locations and adding union slogans to their e-mail signatures.

The PEA, which represents licensed government professionals such as engineers, psychologists, veterinarians and foresters, has been at the bargaining table since January. Members have been without a wage increase since 2009 and are seeking increases that match the cost of living, said PEA executive director Scott McCannell. Targeted, one-day job action in five B.C. communities last week was the first in the union's 38-year history.

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Former finance minister Kevin Falcon – in a statement prepared one day before the unions' announcement, as well as the announcement of his resignation – called the job action disappointing.

"Government made a fair and reasonable offer in these negotiations," he said. "It is irresponsible for the unions to be asking for further wage increases given the uncertain world economic situation. We will not add to the deficit or raise taxes to pay unaffordable wage increases.

"The global economic situation isn't getting any better and continues to put pressure on the budget. As this pressure increases on the budget it will make it harder for Government to consider even modest compensation increases."

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