Metro Vancouver workers officially in strike position, pickets to follow

Members of the Greater Vancouver Regional District Employees' Union say they are in a legal strike position as of Monday afternoon, and will soon begin job action. (Peter Scobie/CBC - image credit)
Members of the Greater Vancouver Regional District Employees' Union say they are in a legal strike position as of Monday afternoon, and will soon begin job action. (Peter Scobie/CBC - image credit)

Hundreds of workers with the Metro Vancouver Regional District are now in a legal position to strike, and their union says multiple job actions will begin soon.

The Greater Vancouver Regional District Employees' Union (GVRDEU) says it issued a strike notice to the regional district on Friday and was in a legal strike position as of 1:20 p.m. PT Monday.

"While this is a significant development in our ongoing negotiations, we want to clarify that there will not be an active picket line today," the union's executive committee said in a news release Monday afternoon.

"Going forward, GVRDEU will initiate various job actions. We believe this approach will allow us to exert the necessary pressure on Metro Vancouver."

Metro Vancouver is the regional government that provides and co-ordinates services for 21 municipalities across the Lower Mainlaind.

The GVRDEU represents around 670 "outside employees of Metro Vancouver" who perform services such as water treatment, wastewater collection, infrastructure construction, housing, air quality monitoring and more.

Linnar Lee, secretary for the GVRDEU, said Saturday that the union has been negotiating with Metro Vancouver for higher wages and better benefits since before its last contract expired on Dec. 31, 2021.

"The employer wants concessions during this hard economic time where most of us are struggling … This livable region is not livable anymore economically for us," said Lee, who works as a housing dispatcher for Metro Vancouver.

Lee said union members are making fair requests in line with other municipalities, such as wages that will allow workers to continue living in the region.

"We want to be able to tuck our kids in at night to go to sleep, instead of increasing our work hours," she said.

In a statement on Saturday, the Metro Vancouver regional district said it has offered an 11.5 per cent wage increase over three years and is "committed to reaching a fair and reasonable collective agreement that recognizes how much [the value of its] staff and is affordable to the local taxpayers who must pay for it."

"The potential job action is unfortunate, however, there will be no disruption to the essential services that we provide to nearly 2.8 million residents every day," reads the statement.

Calls for wage increases and protection

On Aug. 23, union members voted 97.2 per cent in favour of a strike.

Lee said bargaining with the region hasn't gone well, due to Metro Vancouver's requests for concessions, such as cutting back on fair wage clauses and expanding working hours.

She added one provision, known as a "me-too clause," allows GVRDEU members and unionized workers from the City of Vancouver and neighbouring municipalities to receive similar wage increases as one another.

The clause ensures "that our union can settle knowing that we have some kind of wage protection if the City of Vancouver comes to an agreement with a certain wage … The employer wants to take that away from us," she said.

"They also want to amend the hours so that it opens it up that workers work longer hours, [which] contradicts work-life balance."

In a statement, the Metro Vancouver region said it is requesting "a series of cost and procedural efficiencies" that could benefit the region and its employees.

"We believe our wage offer of an 11.5 per cent increase over three years and a one-time lump sum of $2,350, plus other improvements to allowances and benefits, is fair and reasonable and aligned with other negotiated settlements in the region," reads the statement.

Essential services are established

If job action takes place, Lee said essential workers for water treatment and other services will still be staffed to ensure public safety.

But with many other staff striking, she said it would be up to management to decide whether to close or alter non-essential services, like parks.

Lee said the union doesn't take striking lightly, but feels it is necessary.

"For us to say, 'Hey come on, this isn't fair. We need to take strike action.' It's going to hit our pocketbooks, we know that," she said. "But the employer has pushed us to this point."