Strike action: B.C.'s largest public sector union pickets liquor store warehouses
A union representing tens of thousands of government workers in B.C. started job action Monday at 3:30 p.m.
The B.C. General Employees' Union handed the province 72 hours' strike notice Friday after months of bargaining.
The union set up picket lines at four B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch wholesale and distribution centres.
- Delta Distribution Centre– 7003 72nd St., Delta
- Kamloops Distribution Centre – 9881 Dallas Dr., Kamloops
- Richmond Distribution Centre – 3389 No 6 Rd., Richmond
- • Victoria Wholesale Customer Centre – 2291 Government St., Victoria
Union members at the Wholesale Customer Centre and the Customer Care Centre (Cannabis Division) in Burnaby will also be participating in job action, but there will not be a picket line at that location.
“Retail liquor and cannabis stores will not be part of this phase of job action,” said the BCGEU in a news release early Monday morning.
The strategy targets the B.C. government’s pocket book.
“Our bargaining committee looked at what services we could withdraw from that might really incentivize our employer, the government, to invite us back to the table with a really serious offer,” said Stephanie Smith, president of the BCGEU.
She says the goal was to be impactful, but mitigate the consequences to the general public.
“Our members aren't asking for anything that MLAs in Victoria don't already enjoy. Their wages are tied to rates of inflation, minimum wage is finally tied to rates of inflation,” said Smith.
IMPACT ON HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY
The four distribution centres being targeted account for 40 per cent of all alcohol in the province.
Industry experts say consumers will see shortages on store shelves quickly, as the strike puts a chokehold on imported products.
“They’ve brought the entire B.C. liquor distribution industry into their fight,” said Jeff Guignard of the Alliance of Beverage Licensees.
Guignard says the province’s 670 private liquor stores and 8,000 pubs, bars and restaurants will be impacted, and so will the 200,000 people they employ.
“The wholesale centres, which they're picketing, provide alcohol to pubs, bars, restaurants, private liquor stores and government liquor stores as well. They do about $15 billion of economic activity in our industry and all of that is not being impacted.”
Shoppers will still be able to get B.C. beer, wine and spirits as those can be purchased directly from craft distilleries or breweries.
“They're trying to impact government financially by targeting the distribution centre, which is where government makes most of their $1.2 billion on alcohol, but also not showing consumers and frustrating them because we're going to see stock out at our stores as well and this is not our fault,” said Guignard.
David Alvarez, the General Manager of Cook Street Liquor in Victoria said the pandemic already slowed down the delivery of specialty wines, and this is adding to concern.
“Now, with more uncertainty about whether they will land in the next week or two -- we could be out of a whole bunch of products,” he told CTV News in an interview.
Alvarez said some of the first items to go may be vodka-soda drinks. He said even at the best of times, shipments from the BC Liquor Distribution Branch were wonky.
“The uncertainty is what drives me bananas, is knowing when the order is going to arrive, and if it's coming on time, and if everything I’ve ordered is coming, sometimes we don't know what's coming until the day of,” he explained.
At Pagliacci’s the sentiment is the same. The Victoria restaurant’s co-owner isn’t sure what impact the strike will have on shipments, but expects the longer it goes on, the greater the chance some of the specialty items they order will also be in short supply.
“We don't know how much of an impact this may have on us,” said co-owner Solomon Siegel. “It may require us getting in the car a little bit and going to individual liquor stores to get product."
The BCGEU gave the provincial government strike notice on Friday, but didn't reveal what action it would be taking at the time.
The most recent collective agreement between the union and the Public Service Agency expired back in April. Negotiations have been underway since February, but so far, no deal has been reached.
In June, union members voted 95 per cent in favour of job action.
They want five per cent pay boosts each year for two years or a raise to match the cost of living, whichever is higher.
The PSA sent an offer directly to members last month, a deal that included a nearly 11 per cent increase over three years, plus a $2,500-per-member signing bonus.
The BCGEU represents 33,000 workers including wildfire fighters, correctional officers, and BC Liquor and Cannabis store employees.
CTV News reached out to Finance Minister Selena Robinson for comment, but was told she is not available.
The ministry instead issued a statement which read in part, “We remain committed to the collective bargaining process and reaching a fair agreement.”
It says critical services will still be available during the strike.
“Processes required through the Labour Relations Board set essential service levels, ensuring that critical services for people continue,” said the ministry in a statement.
The BCGEU would not reveal what its next step in job action would be if the picket lines do not prove to be effective.
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