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Inflation, rising cost of living causes 95% of voters to vote for BCGEU

Written by Javed Iqbal

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

Nearly 95 percent of members of the BC General Employees’ Union (BEGEU) employed in the public service industry, including detectives, 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, president of the BCGEU and chair of its negotiating committee, “and we could not be more enthusiastic about the outcome.”

She said the union, after nine weeks of negotiations, returned to their members for a vote as the province presented wages that did not address their concerns about inflation protection 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 the wage demands are not met.

BCGEU President Stephanie Smith says the union will be back at the negotiating table with the province on June 27. (BCGEU)

“What really put us in a dead end was a pay cut that was not even in the forefront of addressing our members’ concerns,” Smith told CBC News.

She said the province offered the union a pay rise of 1.75 percent for the first year, plus a steady rise of $ 0.25 an hour and then a pay rise of two percent for the next two years.

On Wednesday, Canada’s inflation rate hit 7.7 percent – the highest since 1983.

“We’ve heard from members who said they literally live from pay to pay, and sometimes the paycheck doesn’t reach all the way through,” she said. “Inflation rates have not been two percent since April last year.”

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

Other unions are asking for the same

The contract between the province and the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) is due to expire at the end of June, according to newly elected president Clint Johnston, and the union has already been sitting at the negotiating table for the past 32 days.

“What we are asking for is to improve working conditions for our members, reduce the workload, but also get a pay rise that keeps 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 for.

“We have the second lowest salary rate for teachers in Canada, and you combine that with living in one of the most expensive cities in Canada and the rising cost of living that people can not afford to take on teaching as a viable career.” said Johnston.

He said in addition to wage increases, the union would also like to see better class sizes to reduce the workload and counter burnout among teachers.

“We want to see more preparation time … where teachers do professional work, but not in front of students,” Johnston said.

Since mid-April, the Professional Employees Association (PEA) has also been negotiating with the province for better pay, but has been stagnant since May.

According to the association’s labor market manager, members voted 92 percent in favor of a strike.

“The most controversial proposal that led to the stalemate and the subsequent strike vote is in terms of wages. The union is looking for a wage increase that will address the cost of living that our members are facing,” Melissa Moroz told CBC News.

She said she is not surprised to hear that the province has invited BCGEU back to the negotiating table as they are a major public service union.

“We share a sick leave scheme with them, a pension scheme with them, a long-term disability scheme and extended health care, so we want them to do well at the negotiating table because they would lift us all,” she said.

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

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Javed Iqbal

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