Fifty government employees walked off the job at Campbell River’s forest ministry office Tuesday as the battle between the BC Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU) and the province heats up.
Workers marched along Dogwood Street near Merecroft Road, waving their bright yellow and blue union signs and carrying placards that read ‘On Strike.’
Doug Kinna, union spokesperson, was in Campbell River for the one-day strike to focus the public’s attention on the union’s issues.
“We want a fair and reasonable agreement,” Kinna said. “This is our first strike since 1988 – we’re not strike happy. We’ve been able to negotiate fair agreements in the past.
“Maybe we should bring (former premier Gordon) Campbell back. At least he knew what he was doing when it came to collective bargaining.”
The BCGEU has followed the province’s wage freeze mandate, not having a pay increase since 2009. The union’s contract expired on April 1, 2012 but the union and the province first sat down at the bargaining table in January. The BCGEU is asking for a 3.5 per cent wage increase this year and a raise equivalent to the cost of living increase for 2013.
The union has already rejected the province’s offer of a two per cent pay increase for 2012 and another 1.5 per cent next yet.
On Wednesday it was announced that the province had withdrawn that offer, which the BCGEU turned down just prior to its first strike at liquor distribution warehouses in Kamloops, Vancouver and Victoria on July 3.
Kinna did not indicate when and if there will be future strikes, but the union did announce weeks ago it intended to stage a series of rotating strikes without hurting the public.
“We’re trying to get our government’s attention without negatively affecting British Columbians,” Kinna said.
The BCGEU has issued two proposals to the province that Kinna said have the potential to generate close to $300 million per year for the government.
“We’ve proposed opening liquor stores on Sundays and putting deputy sheriffs on road patrol,” Kinna said.
“That would be a $280 to $300 million increase in revenue without raising taxes. They’ve had lots of time to review these and they’ve rejected them.”
Finance Minister Kevin Falcon disagrees with the BCGEU’s numbers and said having liquor stores open on Sundays would maybe save $11 million – not enough to fund the increase the union wants – because employees would have to be paid overtime.
Falcon also said it would take away sales from private liquor stores that operate on Sundays.