British Columbia

More job action looms in B.C. as talks between province and public service union collapse

One of the largest unions in British Columbia says talks with the government have broken down as the risk of a strike looms.

Inflation, wage protection key factors for employees, BCGEU says; Vancouver port truckers also vote to strike

A waste collector in Vancouver pictured in March 2020. Some staff with municipalities and regional districts are represented by the BCGEU. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

One of the largest unions in British Columbia says talks with the government have broken down.

A statement from the B.C. General Employees Union (BCGEU) said negotiations with the Public Service Agency, which bargains on behalf of the province, collapsed Monday.

"To say we are disappointed is an understatement. Despite our best efforts to bridge the gap, government has refused to table a proposal that meets our members' key demand of cost-of-living protection," said Stephanie Smith, BCGEU president.

Nearly 95 per cent of union members employed in the public service industry — including correctional officers, administrative staff and government employees — voted last month in favour of striking.

They cited skyrocketing inflation and the need for cost of living-based wage protection as primary factors.

The BCGEU statement said initial discussions with the government were positive, but talks hit an impasse when the province refused to counter the union's latest wage proposal.

Smith said the government's offer amounts to a wage cut.

In a statement, the province said it believes both sides will get past the deadlock.

"Bargaining is a dynamic process and we all recognize that this round includes even more than the usual challenges," read an email Tuesday. "We believe that the parties are committed to reaching negotiated settlements that work for everyone at the table."

The statement said the BCGEU is now planning strategic, targeted job action and finalizing essential services with the assistance of the Labour Relations Board.

More than 180 collective agreements covering nearly 400,000 workers must be renewed in B.C. this year. The strike vote gives the union the mandate to strike if wage demands are not met.

Truckers vote to strike at Vancouver port

Meanwhile, the United Truckers Association says its members have voted unanimously in favour of job action at the Port of Vancouver to protest a program that would force the phaseout of older trucks.

A statement from the association says its 639 members voted to support action that could "create shockwaves across Canada's already fragile supply chain.''

A program aimed at banning older trucks from the port is set to start in September, but the association says the scheme will impose crippling costs on drivers.

The statement says the port will not discuss the phaseout of all trucks that are 20 years old or older, even though most commercially licensed trucks elsewhere in B.C. don't face similar measures.

Association spokesperson Gagan Singh says members have agreed to hold talks with the port in July but will "move forward'' with a shutdown in August if aging trucks are barred.

The port said last month that the program is aimed at improving air quality across Metro Vancouver and was supposed to start in February, but federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra ordered more negotiations.

The statement from the association says Alghabra has been silent since then and the port has reintroduced the so-called Rolling Truck Age Program without any substantial changes.

"The minister is going to have to offer a different approach in the coming weeks,'' Singh says.

More details about possible job action will be released later this month, the statement says.

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