B.C. government employees will stage a one-day strike in Surrey, Kelowna, Campbell River and 100 Mile House next week in their latest job action to back contract demands.
A total of 180 B.C. Government and Services Employees' Union members will walk out of offices in the four cities during operating hours on Tuesday. They are the ministries of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations in Surrey, Campbell River and 100 Mile House; the Ministry of Labour, Agriculture, Health and Environment in Kelowna; and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure in 100 Mile House.
Workers represented by the BCGEU haven't had a raise in three years, and inflation has reduced their spending power by more than five per cent, union president Darryl Walker said.
The union is asking for a 3.5-per-cent wage increase in the first year of a new contract and a cost-of-living increase in the second. The government has said it can't afford such raises, and in June offered 2 per cent in the first year and 1.5 per cent in the second. The union deemed the offer – which would have come into effect on July 1 and would not have been retroactive – unacceptable, saying it was below the rate of inflation.
The government withdrew the offer when BCGEU members started strike action on July 3, picketing three Liquor Distribution Branch sites in Vancouver, Victoria and Kamloops.
The BCGEU's 25,000 members have been without a contract since March 31. Employees include those who are in hospital services, retail liquor store and warehouse operations, social work and government administrative and support services.
The union has made suggestions to the government on ways to find the money for a new contract. On Thursday Aug. 2, members rallied outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, calling for deputy sheriffs – the government employees responsible for security in courts and jails – to be used in traffic safety and enforcement rather than police officers. The switch, they say, would help the provincial government save about $180-million annually.
Dean Purdy, chair of correctional and sheriff services for the province, told the crowd the move is "a no-brainer."
"The government already trained 14 deputy sheriffs [to do traffic], and they're ready to go," he said. "They trained them in 2010 to do a pilot project ... but that was put on hold in 2011 and it's stalled since then."
The government spent "in the ballpark of $300,000" on 10 weeks of training for the 14 deputy sheriffs at the Justice Institute of B.C., and not using them for that purpose would be a waste, Mr. Purdy said.
Several sheriffs were expected to attend Thursday's rally. However, their bosses notified them via email that they would be subject to discipline if they showed up in uniform, Mr. Purdy said.
Justice Minister Shirley Bond was not available for an interview on the proposal, but said in a statement the government is not interested.
"The sheriff traffic enforcement proposal is something we have looked at previously, but it is not something we are currently considering," she said. "We heard from justice system partners and they clearly expressed concern about the idea. Our first priority remains ensuring that our courtrooms have the necessary number of sheriffs available to conduct their primary responsibilities, such as security and prisoner transport."
Mr. Purdy said the province has 500 deputy sheriffs, and reassigning some to traffic would not be a problem.
The union has also suggested opening government liquor stores on Sundays, which could generate up to $100-million in new annual revenue. The government rejected that idea as well.
Finance Minister Kevin Falcon told The Globe and Mail in May that such proposals sometimes don't yield the revenues anticipated when associated costs, such as overtime, are factored in.