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BCGEU strike to see liquor stores, ICBC, others shut doors Wednesday

Sep 04 2012
BCGEU president Darryl Walker says province's offer not enough. 

BCGEU president Darryl Walker says province's offer not enough.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam, Times Colonist , The Province

If you're looking to drink away the stress of a labour dispute, you might want to stock up before Wednesday.

Government liquor store employees are only some of the 27,000 public workers in 1,758 work-sites across 153 communities set to hit picket lines Wednesday for a one-day strike. The B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union announced its plans last week, with hopes of compelling the provincial government to return to bargaining.

"It will be the first major, allout action that we've had in well over 20 years," said union president Darryl Walker on Monday at the Labour Day picnic at Trout Lake Park. "We'll be on the picket lines and every site will be behind picket lines."

Wednesday's strike will be the biggest in B.C.'s recent history but not as big as the public sector strike in 1988 or the general strike of 1982.

The BCGEU has been without a contract since last March and is pushing for a new agreement that includes a 3.5 per cent wage increase in the first year and a cost-of-living increase in the second year. The province had initially offered a two per cent increase in the first year and 1.5 per cent in the second, an offer rejected by the union that has since been withdrawn.

"After almost three and a half years without a pay raise, I don't think it was enough," Walker said.

The one-day strike will close government liquor stores, some ICBC branches connected to Service B.C. offices and other government offices. The only BCGEU workers on the job Wednesday will be in essential services such as child protection, fire prevention, prisons and courthouses.

While Minister Shirley Bond could not be reached for an interview Monday, she released a statement Sunday in response to the BCGEU's impending strike.

"Government made fair and reasonable offers ... that would have seen modest wage increases from within our existing budget," Bond had said. Her comments came after she took up bargaining responsibilities following finance minister Kevin Falcon's resignation Wednesday.

"It is unrealistic for the union to be asking for further wage increases given the uncertain world economic situation. We will not add to the deficit or ask taxpayers for more money to pay unaffordable wage increases."

According to Bond, the government's initial offer would have amounted to $1,700 over two years for an employee earning an average salary of $48,000.

Walker, however, noted the province had rejected suggestions by the union on ways to generate new revenue such as Sunday openings for liquor stores - a move that was estimated to generate up to $100 million annually.

The strike comes just after a poll released late last week that showed more than half of the nearly 900 British Columbians surveyed support job action by public-sector unions.

Commissioned by the B.C. Federation of Labour, the poll showed 62 per cent of respondents said they agreed with public-sector workers going on strike if the B.C. government won't offer at least a cost-of-living increase in their wages.

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