A picket line was in place at the Plaza 400 building in downtown Prince George on Monday as
provincial government workers represented by the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) held at one-day strike.
BCGEU president Darryl Walker said the union has been negotiating on behalf of its 25,000 members since January but remain at odds over wage hikes for a two-year contract.
The government is offering two per cent in the first year then 1.5 per cent the second and wants to start the first increase three months into the new agreement to start retroactively in April this year, Walker said.
The BCGEU is seeking 3.5 per cent in the first year and then a cost of living increase in the following year.
"We're saying that after two years of zeros and three-and-a-half years without a pay raise, it's time we got more than that," Walker said.
The provincial government's "net zero" mandate, which required no net increase in the cost of a service, ended in April and has been replaced with a "cooperative gains" approach where savings that can be found through efficiencies can be passed onto employees.
The BCGEU has proposed opening liquor stores on Sunday, expanding their hours and increasing their locations, which Walker claimed would generate $100 million a year and be more than enough to cover the proposed wage increase.
Ontario appears ready to open 70 new stores over the next two years, Walker noted.
"They seem to get that there's money to be made there," he said.
The union is also suggesting B.C. follow in Alberta's footsteps and expand sheriffs' duties to include traffic enforcement duties and issue speeding tickets.
"It would probably be a slightly different branch than those responsible for the courthouses," Walker said.
He claimed the move generated as much as $80 million in traffic revenue for Alberta last year and helped reduce health care costs because there was less carnage on the roads.
In February last year, Victoria backed away from a pilot program that would have seen sheriffs assisting police on traffic duty. By that point, 14 sheriffs in eight communities around B.C., including one in Prince George, had been trained for the work.
In a statement, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon called the BCGEU's job action disappointing but an expected and normal part of the bargaining process and expected further job action across the public sector in the next few months.
Government made a fair and reasonable offer in these negotiations," Falcon said. "We are in a time of global economic uncertainty, and we will not add to the deficit or raise taxes to pay unaffordable wage increases.
Pickets were also set up in Burns Lake, Dawson Creek, Nelson and Cranbrook and it was the third BCGEU job action this summer in support of the unions proposals to achieve a new collective agreement with the provincial government.