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One-day strike disrupts B.C. government

Sep 05 2012
Finance Minister Shirley Bond said the government's offer to the BCGEU was fair and reasonable. 

Finance Minister Shirley Bond said the government's offer to the BCGEU was fair and reasonable.

Photograph by: Darren Stone, Times Colonist , Times Colonist

Whether you're heading off to class, picking up a sixpack or renewing your driver's licence, expect delays today as unionized workers across the city press contract demands by walking off the job.

Liquor stores, ICBC offices and other government buildings will be behind pickets lines run by the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, Professional Employees Association and the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union.

About 27,000 workers are expected to stage a one-day strike in 153 communities and 1,785 worksites across the province.

Victoria will get an extra dose of labour strife with about 1,300 support staff at the University of Victoria slated to launch unspecified job action after 8 this morning. The workers are members of Canadian Union of Public Employees Locals 951 and 917.

"I think it's safe to say that this is probably the most significant collective agreement bargaining job action that's gone on for some time," said Mike Eso, president of the Victoria Labour Council and a member of the BCGEU.

"I think it reflects the pent-up demand that people have. There hasn't been a real wage increase for a number of years now, and I think people are saying across the public sector, 'Hey, we did our bit. It's time for a raise.' "

The BCGEU wants a 3.5 per cent wage increase in the first year of a deal and a cost-of-living increase in the second. The government offered 3.5 per cent over two years, but has since taken that off the table.

The union is also critical of the government for rejecting its revenue-generating ideas, such as opening government liquor stores on Sunday, which the union claims would generate $100 million.

Finance Minister Shirley Bond issued a statement Tuesday saying the government's wage offer was fair and reasonable, and it's unrealistic to ask for further increases "given the uncertain world economic situation."

"We will not add to the deficit or ask taxpayers for more money to pay for unaffordable wage increases," she said.

Ken Thornicroft, a professor of law and employment relations at the University of Victoria, described the one-day walkout as more of a protest than a strike.

"It's not at the same level as a complete impasse where the parties have walked away and it's a fullblown strike and it becomes a war of attrition," he said.

"I don't think we're anywhere near to that sort of stage. So I consider it to be more of a statement about dissatisfaction, as opposed to a complete breakdown in the bargaining relationship."

Thornicroft said he thought that support staff at the university might wait to see what happens with the BCGEU before launching their own job action.

"I strongly believe that whatever the BCGEU gets is going to be a pattern for everybody else in the public sector, irrespective of what particular union they happen to be a member of," he said.

"So I would have thought it might have been the strategy just to wait and see what happens with the BCGEU, since it's such a large and powerful union. But maybe these other units feel they have to do their part."

The CUPE locals have expressed frustration that the university refuses to negotiate improvements in job security, retraining and severance in the event of layoffs.

The union says those issues are a top priority for its members.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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