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BCGEU reaches tentative deal with provincial government

The union says the three-year agreement would offer wage increases of between 10.74 and 12.99 per cent.
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Workers with the B.C. General Employees' Union picket the liquor distribution warehouse on Government Street on Aug. 18. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The biggest union representing public service workers in British Columbia announced Wednesday it had reached a tentative contract agreement with the province for 33,000 of its members.

The B.C. General Employees’ Union said in a statement the proposed deal with B.C.’s Public Service Agency came together after almost two weeks of limited job action and more than seven months of negotiations.

The union suspended limited job action last week as its bargaining committee returned to negotiations in what it said was “a sign of good faith.”

The job action targeted certain distribution warehouses, including one in Victoria, and left liquor and cannabis store shelves empty of many products.

The union said the three-year agreement would offer wage increases of between 10.74 and 12.99 per cent, with hikes in the second and third years linked to the rate of inflation.

The deal also offers a one-time economic subsidy payment equivalent to $4 per hour for a 16-week period for 20 job classifications ranging from store clerks to machine operators.

It covers jobs in core public services such as public safety, social services and environmental management. Those working at the Liquor Distribution Branch, B.C. Pension Corp., Destination B.C. and the Royal B.C. Museum are also part of the contract.

Union members voted 95 per cent in favour of strike action in June before taking job action in mid-August.

BCGEU president Stephanie Smith said her members were clear that their top priorities were wage increases and wage protection.

“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 overtime as part of our job action,” Smith said in a statement.

The union said the timeline for a ratification vote will be confirmed in the coming days.

Premier John Horgan said his government believes the contract offer is fair and meets the interests of taxpayers.

“We’ll see what comes back from the membership,” Horgan said at a news conference in Langford, where he announced a cap of two per cent on rent increases and $600 million in tax credits and family benefits to help residents counter the increased cost of living.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson told reporters at the same news conference that she would wait for the results of the ratification vote before discussing the affect the agreement will have on the province’s bottom line.

The B.C. Finance Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that the agreement was reached under the so-called shared recovery mandate.

The mandate was set out by the New Democrat government with three key priorities: protecting government services, improving health care and supporting a strong and inclusive economic recovery.

The tentative agreement covers the first of several public sector unions that will be bargaining with the government this year.

Contracts expire in 2022 for more than two-thirds of the BCGEU’s 85,000 members, including those working in community social services and health, post-secondary instructors and support staff, and health science professionals.

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