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Government union strike vote wraps up today

Strike could impact 43 Whistler members in provincial liquor stores

The province and the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) are still in negotiations over a new contract, even as the union’s 25,000 public sector employees are voting whether or not to strike.

That vote ends today, Thursday, March 2, at 5 p.m. Within the next few days the BCGEU will announce the results of that vote.

The current contract, imposed by the province in 2004, expires on March 31. If the BCGEU and government cannot reach an agreement before then, all members in non-essential services may walk off the job.

For Whistler the impact would be felt by 43 BCGEU members, all of them employed in three provincial liquor stores. The B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch could not say if a strike would close the stores, or whether they would be kept open by management.

According to BCGEU communications officer Carol Adams, the union has three major issues going into negotiations.

The first is the issue of wages, which have been frozen for the past two years. "Wages are no longer keeping up with the cost of inflation, and we’d like to ensure that wages keep pace with the cost of living in future years," said Adams.

The government has proposed a wage increase of six per cent over four years, as well as a one-time bonus of $1 billion, which would work out to about $3,300 per employee. The bonus is contingent on government unions reaching bargaining agreements with the province by set dates – in the case of the BCGEU that date is March 31.

The BCGEU is in favour of the bonus, which comes from windfall natural gas revenues, but says proposed wage increases fall short of cost of living increases.

The second issue is employment security. According to the BCGEU, the province has down-sized or outsourced more than 7,000 union positions since 2001 and has plans to continue privatizing public sector jobs. The BCGEU would like the government to guarantee job security and no net loss of employment during the term of the next contract.

According to Adams, the government is asking the union for further concessions in this area and in working conditions.

The third issue, which is related to job security, is contracting out and privatizing public sector work.

"The government is trying to privatize more public sector jobs and departments, and we’re trying to prevent this," said Adams, who believes the union is making some progress.

"The fact that the union and government are still negotiating is positive," she said.

"We’re still hoping we can negotiate a settlement, but we need a strong mandate from our members through the strike vote to take an aggressive line with government."

The government will be negotiating carefully, Aside from the employees represented by the BCGEU, a total of 300,000 provincial employees will renew their contracts this year. Whatever precedent is set with the BCGEU will likely be used as a base for other negotiations.

In addition, all of those employees are eligible for a share of the billion dollar bonus tabled by government.