THE BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) said on Wednesday that its activists have pressured their employer to return to negotiations by organizing the union’s biggest ever strike vote for 33,000 members in the public service.
Ballots were counted on Wednesday and an overwhelming 94.6 per cent of voters said they were prepared to strike for a fair collective agreement.
“I couldn’t be happier with this strong result,” said Stephanie Smith, President of the BCGEU and chair of the union’s bargaining committee. “But it was the lead-up — the five weeks of intensive organizing, pop-up voting sites and mail-in ballot-collecting — that really forced the public service agency to change its tune.”
Between May 16 and June 22, BCGEU members employed with the PSA – with the support of BCGEU staff – embarked on an ambitious member outreach drive to ensure everyone in the bargaining unit could cast their ballot. As the vote wrapped up, their employer suddenly invited BCGEU back to bargaining. Negotiations will resume on Monday, June 27, in Vancouver.
“This vote was a massive undertaking, and just by participating in it, our members clearly made waves,” said Smith. “The voting results drove their point home and sent a strong message to the employer that their staff stand behind their demands, including cost of living protection for wages. We’ll see how well the employer was listening when we return to bargaining next week.”
The BCGEU noted that as inflation continues to skyrocket – reaching 8.1 per cent in B.C. on Wednesday – it erodes workers’ spending power. Cost of living protections for wages has become a key issue for all workers, including the public service. Members of their bargaining unit are employees of direct government, including wildfire fighters, social workers, sheriffs and correctional officers, administrative staff, employees in BC Liquor and Cannabis stores and warehouses, as well as conservation officers, employees who do field and lab work in the realm of environmental monitoring, and more.
From the moment bargaining for their collective agreement began, members said that COLA (Cost-of-Living Adjustment) was a must for the province to continue recruiting and retaining the qualified staff needed to keep our province running.
“Our province was in an affordability crisis before the pandemic and before inflation started to skyrocket last year,” said Smith. “Any wage offer that doesn’t include COLA protection is a wage cut, and no worker should have to accept a pay cut.”
The BCGEU noted that the public service strike vote sends a message of solidarity to hundreds of thousands of other public sector workers who are, or soon will be, in bargaining including staff at addiction treatment centres, group homes, community health, seniors’ care, homes for persons with developmental disabilities, and more.
“A win for the BCGEU’s public service members is a win for every public sector worker in B.C.,” Smith said. “This vote will empower all of them to fight for COLA language.”
Smith added that she is hopeful the PSA’s decision to resume negotiations means they’re prepared to table a serious offer. “Our goal has always been to get a deal at the bargaining table. But if the employer is not fair and reasonable, members are prepared to action their strike vote in the future,” she said.
The BCGEU is the first of many public sector unions to bargain with the government in 2022. In total, almost 400,000 public sector workers have agreements that will, or already have, expire this year.