British Columbia

BCGEU ending strike in 'good faith' after progress in contract negotiations

A two-week strike by workers with the largest union in B.C. came to an end on Tuesday, as the B.C. General Employees' Union (BCGEU) announced its members who work in the public sector were making progress in negotiations with the provincial government.

Retail Cannabis Council of B.C says 50 pot shops had to close but is hopeful most will be back

Members of the British Columbia General Employees' Union picket outside a Liquor Distribution Branch facility in Delta, B.C., on Aug. 15. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

A two-week strike by workers with the largest union in B.C. came to an end on Tuesday, as the B.C. General Employees' Union (BCGEU) announced its members who work in the public sector were making headway in negotiations with the provincial government.

A statement from the union said representatives were making "significant progress" at the bargaining table this week.

The two sides will continue to meet in hopes of finalizing a tentative contract agreement, but in the meantime, the union's workers are going back on the job "as a sign of good faith," the BCGEU said.

"The union's overtime ban has ended — effective immediately — and preparations are underway to stand down picket lines at B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch locations," the statement said.

The union, representing about 33,000 public-service workers across the province, began limited job action on Aug. 15. 

Picket lines were set up outside B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch locations in Delta, Richmond and Kamloops, B.C., along with the wholesale customer centre in Victoria, prompting the province to ration the quantity of certain alcohol products that consumers could purchase in a single transaction.

Last Monday, the union brought in a ban on overtime work.

The union and provincial government have agreed not to comment further on negotiations while they're ongoing, according to the BCGEU.

A man checks his receipt as he leaves a B.C. Liquor Store with a cart full of purchases in Vancouver on Aug. 19. Government-run liquor stores implemented limits on alcohol sales in response to BCGEU job action affecting several distribution outlets that week. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Retailers relieved

Marisa Varas, the CEO and founding director of the AmoVino wine agency, said she was "ecstatic" when she heard public sector employees were back on the job.

"We weren't selling any international wine at all over the last week and a half or two weeks," she said in an interview, explaining that her clients include B.C. Liquor, private liquor stores and local restaurants.

Varas said her company launched a new partnership with another wine agency the day the strike started and hadn't been able to stock any of those new products.

"We also had two big shipments land, one from Portugal and one from Austria, and we haven't been able to sell any of that wine either," she said. "I'm pretty excited to be able to offer people those wines — it's a big deal."

Ian Tostenson of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association said restocking would be "a bit rough" but he was grateful further distress was being averted for businesses facing a labour shortage as they emerge from the pandemic.

"It's probably going to take, realistically, three to four weeks to get the system up and running again, but I know the [LDB] has been working on restart plans so it'll be a priority in terms of restocking the industry as fast as possible,'' he said.

A man stands behind a counter with a range of cannabis products.
Paul Taylor, owner of the A Bud Above cannabis store, is pictured in Vancouver, British Columbia on May 10, 2022. Several retailers across the province were forced to temporarily close their doors due to the BCGEU strike. (Justine Boulin/CBC)

Jaclynn Pehota, executive director of the Retail Cannabis Council of B.C. (RCCBC) said pot retailers are also excited to get back to work.

"Obviously, this is the best possible news," she told CBC News. "BCGEU [employees] returning to work for the duration of their negotiations is going to make such a huge difference in the health of the businesses I represent."

Pehota said RCCBC members started feeling the impact of the strike last Wednesday, with "high volume stores" being particularly affected by product shortages. 

She said 50 cannabis shops had to shut down and lay off around 500 employees, but owners are now hoping they'll be able to bring most of those staff back.

"This is going to save hundreds of businesses across B.C. from closure," she said.

Last week, Pehota said 70 per cent of legal pot stores in the province would have to shut down if the job action continued past Tuesday.

Pehota said the council has been in touch with the province's cannabis distribution centres, and she's optimistic that deliveries will resume "in the next 48 hours."

With files from Joel Ballard, Josh Grant and The Canadian Press