BCGEU workers to strike Wednesday

B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union workers across the province will hold a one day strike Sept. 5 to try and get provincial negotiators back to the bargaining table.

BCGEU president Darryl Walker said he issued a strike notice to the B.C. Public Service Agency and Labour Relations Board on Wednesday, which means 153 communities and 1,785 government work sites across the province will be affected.

Darlene Thorburn, staff representative for BCGEU in Nanaimo, said picket lines will be up at all Nanaimo government BCGEU work sites, but that essential services will continue at varying levels.

"The most essential services will be maintained, so children and family, social development and corrections, things like that will be pretty close to 100 per cent of service," said Thorburn. "The liquor stores, which aren't essential service, will be 100 per cent out and everything in between will have varying levels of service."

An estimated 700 Nanaimo BCGEU workers will participate in the strike, which is expected to last for one day during regular business hours.

BCGEU members work in corrections and sheriff, hospital services, retail liquor stores and warehouses, government administrative and support services, environmental operations, social work, child protection and probation services.

According to a news release issued by BCGEU, Professional Employees Association and Canadian Office & Professional Employees Union will join BCGEU workers on the picket line.

Across the province, 25,000 BCGEU, 1,200 PEA and 4,600 COPE 378 members, the latter of which represents Insurance Corporation of B.C. employees, will strike.

COPE 378 president David Black said his workers have been without a contract for two years.

"Our members ... are doing more work for less pay," he said.

In a speech at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre in January, finance minister Kevin Falcon said there simply isn't enough public money to give unions raises if B.C. is to emerge from a budget deficit by 2014.

"I make no apologies for the transition period," he said.

Falcon announced his resignation from the Liberal cabinet Wednesday. He also said he will not run in the next provincial election.

In July, BCGEU sent a message to the province it was not happy with a government offer by rotating strikes in Victoria, Kamloops and Vancouver.

Walker said BCGEU is asking for a wage increase of 3.5 per cent in the first year and a cost of living increase in the second year for workers, who have been without a contract since March 31. The government countered with a two per cent offer in the first year and 1.5 per cent in the second year, but withdrew the offer and has not returned to the bargaining table.

"We are striking for a fair and reasonable agreement and to support BCGEU members' wage proposal, but the government is not listening," said Walker in a release, adding that the union has not gone on strike in 20 years. "We have not taken the decision to strike lightly. We have no choice but to send a clear message on Sept. 5 that there can be no more falling behind for government workers."

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