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

·3 min read
Members of the British Columbia General Employees' Union picket outside a B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch facility in Delta, B.C., on Aug. 15. On Tuesday, the union announced the strike would end as representatives make progress in government talks. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Members of the British Columbia General Employees' Union picket outside a B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch facility in Delta, B.C., on Aug. 15. On Tuesday, the union announced the strike would end as representatives make progress in government talks. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)

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.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
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."

Varas says she did everything she could to avoid laying off employees. Now, she's taking a "wait and see" approach as to how the alcohol distribution backlog will get cleared up.

Justine Boulin/CBC
Justine Boulin/CBC

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

"Obviously, this is the best possible news," she told CBC. "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 says RCCBC members started feeling the impact of the strike last Wednesday, with "high volume stores" being particularly affected by product shortages.

She says 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.

Pehota says 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."