VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The British Columbia General Employees’ Union, representing some 33,000 public sector workers, voted 95% for strike action to fight for cost-of-living protection against soaring prices. On Aug. 15, 950 workers walked off the job at the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch Wholesale and Distribution centers in Delta, Richmond, Kamloops and Victoria as the first step in the fight.
Strikers at the Richmond picket line told the Militant they wanted a 5% raise per year for two years or cost-of-living protection, whichever was greater.
“We want wage increases that allow them to catch up,” British Columbia General Employees’ Union President Stephanie Smith told CTV News. “Also, just as important, some form of inflation protection for those wages — the same sort of protection wages that they themselves as MLAs [members of the Legislative Assembly] enjoy and have enjoyed since 2007.”
The union already turned down an offer of roughly an 11% increase spread over three years, plus a 2,500 Canadian dollars ($1,900) signing bonus, saying it was well below the current rate of inflation.
“This fight is important for all workers. We’re all facing rising costs,” Mike Smith, a member of the International Association of Machinists at Avcorp Industries in Delta told the Militant. “We need to stand together. “
On Aug. 22 the union announced a ban on overtime, seeking to increase the pressure on the British Columbia government to address the chronic understaffing, high turnover and extreme workloads. Negotiations resumed the next day and the union stepped back from the ban and called off further strike action.
“This has been a long time coming,” striker Steve Lee, a member of the union for 29 years, said on the Richmond picket line. “They’ve been giving us the short end of the stick for a long time. They always try to divide and conquer.”
Strikers told us that teachers, nurses and firefighters have visited the picket line to show solidarity along with Machinist union members from Delta. Cars and trucks passing by honked their horns in support.
Contracts for 400,000 more public sector workers in British Columbia are coming up, including teachers and nurses. The Hospital Workers Union announced Sept. 2 they have reached a tentative agreement for its 60,000 members.