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BCGEU alleges province bargained in bad faith

The ratification of the tentative agreement for the 25,000-member British Columbia Government and Service Employees' Union's has broken down with the union alleging the government bargained in bad faith.

The BCGEU's website says it was "double crossed" by the Public Service Agency, which bargains on behalf of the government. And an Oct. 31, 2012, letter from BCGEU chief negotiator David Vipond to PSA head Bert Phipps says, "Our members believe they were lied to."

The union represents more than 25,000 direct government employees. On Sept. 28 the union and the government announced they'd reached a tentative agreement that would give members four one-percent raises over a two-year period.

According to Vipond's letter, the issue revolves around the employers' unwillingness to reimburse BCGEU members for the fees they spend to belong to professional organizations at what they will cost in 2011 and 2012.

But after the BCGEU reached its tenatative agreement, having accepted a lower rate of reimbursement on professional fees, the PSA agreed with another union, the Professional Employees' Association, to pay for their fees at the 2011 rate.

Vipond wrote to Phipps that the award to the PEA has "severely complicated" the ratification of the master agreement. "This has occurred because we were misled about reimbursement of professional fees," he said. "This was a priority issue for us for nine months, on the table until the last day when we settled."

Negotiators told the BCGEU, according to the letter, that reimbursing members at the 2011 levels would cost too much money and affect settlements at other tables. Also, both the Public Sector Employers' Council and Finance Minister Mike de Jong were opposed, it said.

"It is now apparent that we were misled because the PEA were given the very item we sought, and more," Vipond wrote."We are trying to defuse many angry members, working alongside PEA members; this is a hot issue."

He added, "We are considering an [Labour Relations Board] application alleging bargaining in bad faith."

The employer could remedy the situation by agreeing to pay for professional fees at the 2011 and 2012 levels, he said. "Our members believe they were lied to. We cannot abide this turn of events."

The BCGEU's website says it has received "sharp criticism" from members on the issue. "This is a double-cross, plain and simple," the website says. "It will hurt the relationship between the BCGEU and PSA for some time."

Finance ministry spokespeople were not immediately ready to comment.

Update, 1:10 p.m.: The PSA's Bert Phipps responded to the BCGEU in a Nov. 1 letter posted today on the BCGEU's website (and saved here). "I wish to inform you the Employer will not amend the tentative agreement," he wrote. "We acknowledge that the agreement that we reached with the PEA contains higher professional fee reimbursement rates than your agreement, but it is important to note that the BCGEU made other gains in this round of bargaining that the PEA did not."

Phipps also said it is the employer's view that the BCGEU is legally obliged to complete it's ratification vote on Nov. 5 as scheduled.

The BCGEU's website described the response as a "cold shoulder" and said "it damages a working relationship and engenders ill will."

The union's legal advice said it might be successful with an application to the LRB alleging the province bargained in bad faith, but that it would not result in the employer paying more for the members' professional fees. "For this reason, we are proceeding with the count of ballots on Monday, November 5th, to ratify the Master and Component agreements," it said.

The difference works out to about $230,000 a year, it said. "Rest assured, reimbursement of these fees will be a very high priority in the next round of bargaining," it said. "In the meantime, your employer will reap what they sow, distrust and a lack of cooperation."

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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