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Other unions hopeful that deals available

Jun 29 2012

A surprise tentative deal between B.C.’s teachers and the provincial government could be a positive sign for contract negotiations with other public sector unions, says a union leader.

“I think if you look at it in terms of a couple of sides that appeared to be quite far apart not that long ago, that were able to come together, it shows that the possibility of an agreement is there,” said Darryl Walker, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union. “They’ve managed to get that deal, and the signs are that deals are available and can be arrived at.”

After months of public sparring and a full-scale walkout this year, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation announced Tuesday it had reached a tentative deal with the government with the help of a mediator.

The teachers’ issues differ from those of the other unions, but the agreement “may bode well for us,” said Walker, who represents 25,000 unionized government employees teetering on the verge of job action after breaking away from mediation on the weekend.

“Perhaps the positive sign is that there’s an ability out there to get a collective agreement in difficult times,” he said.

The provincial government is also facing strife in its labour talks with community social service workers, community health employees and nurses.

Any optimism of deals with those groups could quickly be overshadowed by other escalating job action.

ICBC’s 4,600 employees — including 550 on Vancouver Island — announced Thursday they would begin an overtime ban next week in the first stage of job action stemming from a strike vote in April.

The workers handle services ranging from driver’s licence registration to insurance claims.

“Our intent is not to put the drivers in the middle of our dispute,” said Jeff Gillies, vice-president of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union local 378.

“It’s putting some pressure on ICBC and the government to come to the table and negotiate with us.”

The union said a full-scale strike and walkout is “an absolute last resort” and any future job action would receive at least 48 hours of advanced notice.

ICBC spokesman Adam Grossman said a Labour Relations Board ruling would ensure essential service staffing in claims, driver licensing, insurance and information services.

“This will allow us to continue serving our customers with the least amount of inconvenience,” Grossman aid.

ICBC workers have been without a contract since 2010 and say they are upset at a lack of wage increases and an ICBC contract offer of a wage freeze until 2015.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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