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Victoria liquor warehouse target for picketing on Tuesday

Jun 30 2012

Government employees will throw a picket line in front of a Victoria liquor warehouse for one day next week as the union representing provincial employees begins strike action.

Workers will walk off the job at Liquor Distribution Branch warehouses in Vancouver and Kelowna, and in Victoria at 2219 Government St., said the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union.

The picket lines go up at 11:30 p.m. Monday in Vancouver, with the Victoria walkout running from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

The liquor-buying public isn’t expected to see any disruption at B.C. government liquor stores, which will remain open for business as usual, the BCGEU said.

There could even be an increase in sales as people stockpile alcohol over the weekend to avoid any perceived inconvenience, said chief negotiator David Vipond.

“We’re not strike-happy, we’re looking for a settlement,” he said.

“We’re trying to maintain revenues and not locking down [government] liquor stores.”

Wages appear to be the main sticking point between the union’s 25,000 public employees and the B.C. government. The BCGEU walked away from mediation last weekend.

“They’re still trying to jam us with a skinny offer,” said Vipond.

Union workers handle a wide variety of government services, but appear to have chosen the liquor distribution warehouses for their first strike action because of unhappiness over a government plan to privatize the facilities.

The province announced in February it would put out a request for proposals to the private sector to take over liquor distribution and warehousing currently done by the government’s Liquor Distribution Branch.

The deadline for proposals expired this weekend.

“Taking out the spine of the Liquor Distribution Branch is a very significant issue for us,” said Vipond.

Finance Minister Kevin Falcon said his government will take off the table its last offer to the BCGEU, which included a two per cent wage increase next month and 1.5 per cent in 2013.

“I want to be really straight-up with them, and let them know future offers are unlikely to be as reasonable as that, given the worsening global economic situation,” said Falcon.

The BCGEU is among a number of unions threatening increasing job action, including ICBC workers, community social service workers and community health employees.

B.C.’s teachers, who had been locked in a long-standing labour dispute with the government, ratified a surprise tentative agreement this week.

It’s likely the government is looking for a big deal to use as a template for the rest of the labour negotiations, said Ken Thornicroft, labour expect at the University of Victoria.

“Maybe I’m just being optimistic, but I don’t really see there being a great big lengthy strike, and I don’t see a government legislating a deal either,” he said.

Though at one time it looked as if Premier Christy Clark’s Liberal government was going to use a tough stand on labour relations as a backdrop for the 2013 provincial election, it appears the Liberals have changed course to be more flexible with the teachers’ deal, said veteran political scientist Norman Ruff.

The unions might be banking on short-term deals that would let them renegotiate with a more sympathetic NDP government, should the NDP win in 2013.

“That might be a fool’s game,” said Ruff.

“Although the NDP are allies with the union movements, that doesn’t necessarily extend to when the NDP becomes the employer.”

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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