Inflation, rising cost of living drive 95% strike vote by BCGEU members

Members of one of the largest unions in BC voted overwhelmingly to strike, citing skyrocketing inflation and the need for wage protection based on the cost of living.

Nearly 95 percent of BC General Employees’ Union (BEGEU) members who work in public services, including correctional officers, administrative staff and government employees, voted between May 16 and June 22. The results were announced on Wednesday.

“It was the largest vote our union has ever held of its kind,” said Stephanie Smith, BCGEU chair and chair of the negotiating committee, “and we are delighted with the outcome.”

She said the union returned to its members for a vote after nine weeks of negotiations when the province put wages on the table that did not meet their concerns about inflation protections and the rising cost of living.

BCGEU representatives will meet with provincial negotiators on Monday. The strike vote gives the union a mandate to strike if wage demands are not met.

BCGEU Chair Stephanie Smith says the union will return to negotiating with the county on June 27. (BCGEU)

“What really put us at a standstill was a wage offer that wasn’t even on the margins to allay our members’ concerns,” Smith told CBC News.

She said the county offered the union a 1.75 percent pay raise for the first year, plus a flat rate raise of $0.25 per hour and then a two percent pay rise for the next two years.

On Wednesday, Canadian inflation reached 7.7 percent, the highest since 1983.

“We’ve heard of members who said they literally live paycheck to paycheck and sometimes that paycheck doesn’t quite make it through,” she said. “Inflation has not been more than two percent since April last year.”

“Our proposal has been the same from the beginning. It was five percent or a cost of living adjustment, whichever is greater,” Smith said. “We need to have a wage offer that they will consider appropriate and that they will vote yes to.”

Other unions ask the same

According to newly elected President Clint Johnston, the contract between the province and the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) will expire at the end of June, and the union has been negotiating for 32 days.

“What we are asking is to improve working conditions for our members, reduce the workload, but also get a pay increase that will keep them from going backwards with the rising cost of living,” he said.

He said the province has offered them a two percent increase, which is not even close to what members are asking.

“We have the second lowest teacher salary in Canada and when you combine that with living in one of the most expensive cities in Canada and the rising cost of living, people cannot afford to teach as a viable career in their own right. to take.” said Johnson.

He said that in addition to pay increases, the federation would also like to see larger classes to reduce workload and tackle teacher burnout.

“We’d like to see more prep time…where teachers do professional work, but not in front of students,” Johnston said.

Since mid-April, the Professional Association of Employees (PEA) has also been negotiating with the province about better wages, but has been silent since May.

According to the labor relations officer of the association, members voted 92 percent in favor of a strike.

“The most controversial proposal leading to the deadlock and subsequent strike vote concerns wages. The union is seeking a wage increase that would address the rise in the cost of living facing our members,” Melissa Moroz said. to CBC News.

She said she was not surprised to hear that the province has invited the BCGEU to come back to the negotiating table, as it is a larger public services union.

“We share a sick leave plan with them, a retirement plan with them, a long-term disability plan and comprehensive health benefits, so we want them to do well at the negotiating table because they would lift us all up,” she said. †

She said members hope to reach an agreement with the government before going on strike and will closely monitor what is happening between BCGEU and the province.

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