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BC liquor distribution centres at centre of union strike

The BCGEU represents about 33,000 public-service workers. The union issued a strike notice on Friday.

By Ryan Hook
August 15, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

BC liquor distribution centres at centre of union strike

The BCGEU represents about 33,000 public-service workers. The union issued a strike notice on Friday.

By Ryan Hook
Aug 15, 2022
BCGEU members picket outside a liquor distribution centre in Victoria. Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily
BCGEU members picket outside a liquor distribution centre in Victoria. 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.

BC liquor distribution centres at centre of union strike

The BCGEU represents about 33,000 public-service workers. The union issued a strike notice on Friday.

By Ryan Hook
August 15, 2022
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BC liquor distribution centres at centre of union strike
BCGEU members picket outside a liquor distribution centre in Victoria. Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily

The British Columbia General Employees' Union (BCGEU) has begun setting up picket lines. At 3:30pm on Monday, liquor distribution centres in Delta, Richmond, and Kamloops, as well as one wholesale centre in Victoria, began striking, effectively halting liquor deliveries across the province.

“It’s an obvious target,” Ian Tostenson, CEO of BC Restaurants Association, said. “Liquor always creates public interest—people understand it.”

But Tostenson thinks it’s unfair to local restaurants. 

Since March 2020, around 3,000 BC restaurants have closed amid pandemic shutdowns and worker shortages. “I’m hoping our industry doesn't get further damaged,” he said. “We just can't continue to operate with such uncertainty.”

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Tostenson said if the strikes last, some business owners may start to feel the pressure by the end of the week. “Those warehouses supply everything—to all the BC and private liquor stores,” he said. “I hope calmer heads prevail.” 

Clayton Thornber, general manager of Wind Cries Mary, told Capital Daily he sources his liquor from local suppliers. Should the strike last, he said his restaurant could handle it.

“BC Liquor Stores have been plagued by product shortages, supply chain issues, back orders and any number of other issues regarding availability of product,” he said. “So we have had to learn to be very adaptable already.”

But Matt Manuel, general manager at Tudor House Liquor Store, said he doesn’t have the same luxury some restaurants have. “They [restaurants] can just go into a liquor store and pick up what they need,” he said. “Our orders [at Tudor House] are much bigger—about 60% of our inventory is imported.” 

Since the strike has only just started, Manuel said liquor stores are in a “grey area” right now. “By the end of the week [if the strike continues], we’ll probably have a little more urgency.” 

The BCGEU, which represents about 33,000 public-service workers in the province, issued the strike notice on Friday after six months of bargaining with the BC government for better pay. The union is pushing for a 5% annual increase over two years. If the rate of inflation climbs higher than 5%, that annual increase could rise to match.

“Our members have been crystal clear since day one that their priority this round of bargaining was cost-of-living protection for their wages,” Stephanie Smith, BCGEU president and chair of the union's public service bargaining committee, said in a press release.

The previous collective agreement expired in April, but negotiations with the Public Service Agency (PSA) began on February 8. After months of negotiations without brokering an agreement, union members voted 95% in favour of job action on June 22.

The parties met once more in July, but talks quickly broke down, with inflation presenting one barrier to consensus between the parties. “That one piece of the puzzle about protecting wages against economic uncertainty—there was no indication that was going to happen,” Smith told Capital Daily. 

Smith said members want security in a time when cost of living has increased. BC’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) has increased 7.9% in 2021. At the bargaining table, Smith said the government proposed a 1.75% wage increase.

Smith said having a wage tied to inflation is not an unusual request: both MLA’s wages and BC’s minimum wage are.

UVic assistant professor of sociology Anelyse Weiler told Capital Daily inter-worker solidarity will be key to the BCGEU’s efforts. “If individual members of the public feel a sense of inconvenience because of job action, are they going to rally behind workers?” she asked. “It’s a big question.”

If the BCGEU is successful though, Weiler said it will be an important demonstration of how workers might come to deal with inflation, and fight against the rising cost of living. After agreements expired in March, the BCGEU has been renegotiating six new agreements with the provincial government on behalf of employees working in public services, social services, health services, and post-secondary education.

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Ryan Hook
Food, Arts & Culture Reporter

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