More public sector workers could join the British Columbia General Employees Union on the picket line after the union representing government-licensed professionals said it will issue a 72-hour strike notice at noon today.
The Professional Employees Association, which represents 1,200 licensed professionals including agronomists, engineers, foresters, geoscientists, pharmacists, psychologists and veterinarians, said it is prepared to join the BCGEU-specific strike that began Monday.
“We are prepared to strike if necessary,” said Melissa Moroz, a labor relations officer for the PEA. “We will do it in coordination with the BCGEU.” Moroz did not provide details on what the legal strike might look like.
The union began negotiating with the Public Service Agency on April 11 and reached an impasse on May 16, the union said, when wage increases offered by the government failed to address rising costs of living. Union members voted 92 percent in favor of a strike in June.
The union is asking for a 5 percent wage increase in each of the three years, or cost-of-living adjustments, whichever is greater, Moroz said.
“People don’t join a union to go backwards” in relation to the cost of living, he said. Moroz said professional employees rebuild bridges and roads, monitor BC’s forests and agriculture, and provide care for vulnerable youth. Under the Labor Relations Code, essential workers will not go on strike, she said.
“The BCGEU is at the forefront of picketing liquor distribution plants,” Moroz said. “We will add to that momentum and that escalation of labor action.”
The BCGEU, which represents 33,000 provincial government workers, is in its third day of targeted labor action with 950 liquor distribution and wholesale workers on strike. That means no liquor or cannabis products are distributed to BC businesses, which has worried the hospitality industry.
The union’s bargaining team rejected the Public Service Agency’s most recent offer of a 10.99 percent wage increase over three years plus a one percent cost-of-living adjustment. Employees would also receive a $2,500 singing bonus.
The Finance Ministry said the cost-of-living adjustment “will vary somewhat in the public sector depending on the average hourly wage of each bargaining unit because the mandate is designed to provide an extra boost to lower-wage workers who are most affected during periods of high inflation.”
The union wants inflation-linked wages, which it says is the deal offered to MLAs.
Almost all of the 400,000 unionized workers in the provincial public sector have contracts that expire this year.
The Ministry of Finance did not give details on what the 10.99 percent wage increase offered to the BCGEU would cost taxpayers.
However, he did say that salaries for the province’s 400,000 public sector employees cost $38.6 billion, or more than half of the province’s budget. A 1 percent raise for all unionized employees across the public sector would cost about $311 million a year, the Finance Ministry said.
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