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Nearly 200 BCGEU members to strike over wages

Union job sites across the province will see strike action on August 7, as the union representing provincial employees, the BC Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU), takes 180 of its 65,000 members out onto the picket lines in Surrey, Campbell River, 100 Mile House and Kelowna.

Employees will picket at three Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations offices, a Ministry of Labour, Agriculture, Health and Environment location and one Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure office. The union filed strike notice on these operations with the province's labour relations board on August 2. With contract talks stalled, wage hikes remain a key issue for union members.

Although Forests Ministry offices are on the list to be picketed, the union emphasized in a statement that their action will not interfere with forest fire response. Union President Darryl Walker told News 1130 that "if there are essential services agreed to between the union and the employer at any of these sites, the essential services will be maintained."

Over 80 per cent of BCGEU members saw their contract expire on March 31 this year. The August 7 actions will be the second job action launched by the union since the contract expired. The first strike action saw BCGEU members picketing three Liquor Distribution Branch sites in Vancouver, Victoria and Kamloops on July 3.

The union has called 2012 "the year of no more falling behind," pledging to fight to make up for losses its members experienced due to inflation over the term of the last contract. This goal is in contrast to government intentions to create new labour agreements that add nothing to government expenditures.

On June 25 the BCGEU called for the mediator assigned to talks between the government and the union to book off, saying that the offer on the table then was below inflation levels and represented a real loss of income for members.

"The wage increase we proposed could have been achieved without raising taxes, increasing the deficit, cutting programs or laying off public service workers. There would also be revenues created to fund public services," read a union statement issued that day.

On June 28, the union executive authorized strike action.

Roughly half of BCGEU members are direct employees of the province, while the balance in the broader public sector work in a wide array of community social services, colleges, and group homes for the developmentally challenged. In the private sector members provide financial services in banks and credit unions, and work in hotels, department stores, First Nations governments, theatres, highway snow plowing services and casinos. Formed in 1947, the BCGEU attained full bargaining rights in 1974.

Tom Sandborn covers labour and health policy beats for the Tyee. He welcomes feedback and story tips at tos@infinet.net.

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