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Tentative deal for 30,000 public service workers in B.C., while fallout from job action expected to take weeks to resolve


After seven months of contract negotiations, one of the largest unions in B.C. has reached a tentative deal with the province for public service workers.

The B.C. General Employees Union (BCGEU) said Wednesday the three-year agreement covers more than 30,000 employees, including correctional officers, government liquor store and cannabis store workers, social workers, and wildfire fighters.

While talks may be over, the impact from recent job action on liquor distribution in B.C. is expected to take a little longer to resolve.

At The Junction pub on Davie Street in Vancouver, restocking the bar has become more challenging since last month’s strike, which choked liquor supply and led the province to impose purchase limits.

Co-owner Vince Marino said the tentative deal is good news, but supplies haven’t caught up just yet.

“Going as a licensee from one liquor store to another to try to get product is literally next to impossible,” he said. “As it went into the second week, we were getting very close to that exhaustive point in the process.”

The union issued its 72-hour strike notice on Aug. 12. It says the most recent collective agreement expired on April and negotiations began on Feb. 8.

First, members picketed at BC Liquor Distribution Branch wholesale and distribution centres in Delta, Richmond, Kamloops and Victoria. An overtime ban was later announced for all workers, except those with the B.C. Wildfire Service.

The two parties returned to negotiations late last month. BCGEU president Stephanie Smith credits the job action for getting them back to the table, and reaching a deal they’ll now put to members.

“This round of bargaining honestly has been one of the most difficult and challenging that I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “From the very first offer where we took our strike vote, we’ve more than doubled that over the term of the agreement.”

Wage increases and protections were key issues for the union. A date for a ratification vote will be confirmed in the coming days.

“It will come down now to the vote,” Smith said. “And I hope again that members will see something in this agreement that is positive for them.”

Executive director of the Alliance of Beverage Licensees Jeff Guignard said the tentative agreement is something the industry has been waiting for over the past several months.

“By having this tentative deal in place, it provides an essential level of certainty to industry that we’re not going to go backwards,” he said. “Most hospitality businesses lost money or were barely breaking even during the last couple of years of the pandemic and then the strike came at the exact time when we were trying to claw out of that, so it had a financial cost to our industry.”

He said restocking is still expected to take weeks.

“What that means for consumers out there is when you go to a liquor store this weekend you’re still going to see empty holes on shelves,” he said. “Your favourite bar or pub or restaurant may still be out of stock on certain ingredients.”

Marino said for now, the message for patrons is patience.

“The message for our customers is we’re doing our best,” he said. “The whole chain is trying to do its best.”

There are more than 180 public sector unions in B.C. that had contracts expiring this year. A tentative deal has also recently been reached with the Facilities Bargaining Association, which includes the Hospital Employees' Union. Top Stories

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