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‘Not what we wanted’: Many BCGEU public services employees disappointed with latest tentative deal

The tentative agreement comes after two weeks of job action, but some union members say it isn’t enough

By Jolene Rudisuela
September 10, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

‘Not what we wanted’: Many BCGEU public services employees disappointed with latest tentative deal

The tentative agreement comes after two weeks of job action, but some union members say it isn’t enough

BCGEU members picket outside a liquor distribution centre in Victoria in mid August. Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily
BCGEU members picket outside a liquor distribution centre in Victoria in mid August. Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

‘Not what we wanted’: Many BCGEU public services employees disappointed with latest tentative deal

The tentative agreement comes after two weeks of job action, but some union members say it isn’t enough

By Jolene Rudisuela
September 10, 2022
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‘Not what we wanted’: Many BCGEU public services employees disappointed with latest tentative deal
BCGEU members picket outside a liquor distribution centre in Victoria in mid August. Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily

The BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) announced on Wednesday it had reached a tentative agreement with the province for its 33,000 public service members.

But the agreement still has a major obstacle to overcome: ratification by the union’s members, not all of whom are happy about the deal.

The announcement came after more than seven months of negotiations and two weeks of strikes—including at a liquor distribution centre in Victoria, which caused liquor stores to run down to bare shelves in recent weeks.

“Bargaining is never easy and this has been a long and challenging round,” said Stephanie Smith, BCGEU president and chair of the bargaining committee, in a statement. “I'm proud of the work our committee has done and I'm proud of the solidarity our members have shown over the last eight months-especially the hundreds who walked picket lines at liquor and cannabis locations and the thousands who refused much-needed over-time as part of our job action.”

Neither the union nor the Ministry of Finance responded to a request for comment by publication time.

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According to a list of highlights posted by the union, the new three-year agreement includes a 3.24% pay increase plus $0.25 per hour bump for the first year; a 5.5% to 6.75% pay increase in the second year based on inflation; and a 2% to 3% pay increase in the third year based on inflation.

Liquor Distribution Branch employees—including employees at liquor distribution centres and retail liquor and cannabis stores—would be entitled to a one-time “economic subsidy payment” equal to $4/hour for a 16-week period retroactive to April 1 of this year. 

"This is a fair and reasonable deal for employees now and three years from now," the BC Public Service Agency said in a statement. "This deal balances the needs of workers with government’s fiscal responsibilities to the province and people of British Columbians."

Many members unhappy with deal

Since the tentative agreement was announced, however, the sentiment among many BCGEU public sector employees has been less than positive, suggesting trouble could be coming for the proposed agreement. Many have been taking to social media to express their disappointment.

“This is not what we voted for, this is not what we wanted, and this doesn’t actually do enough to address the cost of living crisis that we have,” one employee who has worked for a government ministry for four years, told Capital Daily. “It just makes it hard to live in Victoria, where we’re expected to live for work.”

The ministry employee requested anonymity for fear of losing her job and burning bridges within the union. She said she is glad to see that some public sector employees would get $4/hour retroactive pay, but she said that same recognition wasn’t extended to everyone in the public service through this proposed deal. 

When the union voted overwhelmingly to take job action in June, the union cited cost-of-living adjustment protections as the key issue. The first wage proposal offered by the province in the spring offered pay increases that were less than half of the cost-of-living raise the union asked for. 

“The bottom line is any wage offer that doesn't include [cost-of-living adjustment] is a wage cut and no worker should be expected to take a wage cut—especially not the public service workers who kept our families safe and our province operating throughout all the uncertainty of the last few years,” Smith said in a statement in April. 

Such protections against inflation are becoming more common in collective agreements, according to the union. Starting this year, minimum wage increases are tied to inflation in the province. MLAs have also had their annual pay increases indexed to inflation since 2007.  

Another member, who has worked for the BC public service agency for 10 months, told Capital Daily the current agreement is only slightly better than the offer that triggered the recent job action.

“Seeing as the last agreement that we had went on strike for was very similar to this, I was pretty shocked that this was their successful agreement they were going to propose to us,” he said. “Overall, without the big wage increase this year, I think it’s essentially a wage cut for all employees in real terms, which is quite devastating.”

Inflation dropped slightly from its four-decade high in July to 7.6%, the first time in over a year the rate has fallen. The Bank of Canada is projecting inflation will decline to about 3% by the end of 2023, and return to 2% by the end of 2024. 

Earlier this week the province announced a 2023 rent increase cap, and increases to the climate credit and family benefit as part of a cost of living relief package

Victoria, specifically, is also seeing ever-increasing housing prices. The latest report from Rentals.ca shows that the average cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment rose to $2,107 in August, a 20% year over year increase. 

Capital Daily talked to three union members and each of them said they will vote “no” to the tentative agreement and don’t know anyone who is planning to vote “yes.” This sentiment has been echoed by many public service employees across the province on Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit. 

“My hope is that it doesn’t get ratified and we could get back to the bargaining table and tell them to do better,” the ministry employee said. 

A date to ratify the agreement hasn’t yet been set.

Nearly 400,000 public sector workers have agreements that expired this year, and the BCGEU is the first public-sector union to have begun bargaining. The union itself is currently renegotiating six new agreements with the provincial government on behalf of employees in public services, social services, health services, and post-secondary education. 

UVic assistant professor of sociology Anelyse Weiler told Capital Daily last month that whatever deal BCGEU gets for the public service employees could set a precedent for other negotiations.  

—With files from Ryan Hook

Updated at 9am on Sept. 12 to include response from the BC Public Service Agency.

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