Picket lines were up in Nelson on Monday as job action by the BC Government Employees Union and the Professional Employees Association’s Government Licensed Professionals reached the West Kootenay.
Both unions have been in negotiations with the provincial government since January.
“We’ve been doing rotating strikes so this is our first action up in the Kootenays,” said Doug Kinna with BCGEU. “We are on strike for a fair and reasonable contract. The government has no wage offer on the table and they said if we went on strike they would pull it. Their second wage offer after our strike vote was worse than the one and a half per cent each year that they give to us originally. It’s just going in a downwards spiral.”
Kinna said the union offered a potential solution that would allow for wage increases but it was rejected.
“We’ve offered them $300,000 in two proposals, which would involve opening liquor stores on Sundays and putting deputy sherifs on the road to do road patrol. That proposal would give us and others a fair and reasonable settlement with lots left over for government and they won’t do it. We don’t have too many other choices. We aren’t at the table right now, we are out on the line. I can’t see us going back until the government is ready to do some moves.”
The Professional Employees Association announced one-day strike action on Thursday at five locations Burns Lake, Cranbrook, Nelson, Dawson Creek and Prince George.
“The main issue for our members is the Government’s marginalization of professional practice in the public service,” said Scott McCannell, executive director of the PEA in a prepared statement. “Our professional members have in almost all cases chosen public service because of their commitment to serving the public interest. Without some protections to stop a clear trend of downsizing professionals or replacing them with non-professionals, the public interest will not be served.”
PEA said the number of professionals employed by the province has decreased by 26 per cent over the last decade and 10 per cent in the last two years.
“The PEA is seeking wage increases that match the cost of living,” read the statement. “PEA members have been without a wage increase since 2009 and have had wage freezes in two of the last three rounds of bargaining. A market study by a world renowned compensation company shows that PEA wages lag other comparable public sector and private sector professional jobs by between 9 and 43 per cent, depending on profession.
Kinna said he would like to see the government come back to the table and look at the proposals offered by BCGEU.
“They haven’t done a cost analysis,” he said. “They haven’t done anything, they just say no. They don’t have any real reason for it. The Finance Minister just says ‘No, I don’t want to do that.’ It kind of puts in a box that we can’t get out of. I want to see the government come back to the table and treat us with respect. We aren’t asking for the moon, we’re asking for fair and reasonable.”
Kinna said if the government doesn’t return to the bargaining table there will likely be an escalation in job action.