FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 13, 2021
B.C. liquor and cannabis workers rally for essential pay at Finance Minister's offices
BURNABY, COAST SALISH TERRITORIES – After more than a year of serving the public safely and peacefully at publicly-owned liquor and cannabis stores and warehouses without financial acknowledgement of their pandemic working conditions, B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) members working for the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB) will be safely and peacefully rallying at the offices of the Finance Minister to have her authorize essential pay for their government-deemed essential work.
"These rallies aren't just about financial acknowledgement of the risky conditions we've endured and record revenues we've helped generate during this pandemic," said BCLDB employee and BCGEU steward Erica Cardarelli. "This is about our need to be treated fairly now and into the future, better than we have been treated long before COVID-19."
BCLDB workers were among thousands who the B.C. government declared essential during the initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring. Liquor and cannabis retail stores have remained open to the public throughout the pandemic-with prevention measures like plexiglass barriers and mandatory masks introduced long after members called for them. The warehouses have also remained fully operational to support increased demand from stores as well as pubs, bars and restaurants.
At a recent employee town hall, the BCLDB reported record retail sales and Christmas-level wholesale orders throughout the pandemic, as well as increased spending on advertising and opening or renovating stores. At the same event, when asked if the BCLDB would provide workers with essential pay, CEO and General Manager Blain Lawson claimed it was government, not him, who had the power to authorize that particular item.
"In calling on Minister Robinson, we're simply acting on our employer's message," said BCGEU vice president Kusam Doal. "We're not asking for funds from the provincial budget. We're asking Minister Robinson, the minister who oversees the BCLDB, to validate our employer's claim and authorize our employer to use a fraction of the public-supporting revenue we help generate during this pandemic to appropriately acknowledge our risk and efforts. This seems like a simple administrative matter, one we believe Minister Robinson can resolve."
BCGEU members working for the BCLDB will rally outside Selina Robinson's constituency office on Austin Avenue in Coquitlam and outside the B.C. Legislative Assembly buildings in Victoria at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, April 14 – two weeks since workers and their supporters began emailing Minister Robinson with the same message. Workers will also be active on social media using the hashtag #essentialBCLDB.
The BCGEU is one of the largest, most diverse and fastest growing unions in B.C. with more than 80,000 members working in almost every community and economic sector in the province, including about 4,600 members at the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch.
For more information contact BCGEU Communications, [email protected]
"Being deemed essential but not recognized as such is a blow to our pride – which I think all front line workers can say is vital, given the devastating impacts to our physical and mental health." – Erica Cardarelli, BCLDB employee and BCGEU steward
"Our employer and the government are one in the same. We're just being passed back and forth between our direct employer and government, and neither is taking responsibility nor accountability for the relationship with us workers. We've had enough of being messed around and gaslit." – Erica Cardarelli, BCLDB employee and BCGEU steward
"Not only are we government employees, we are tax-paying, voting stakeholders of the government. And we have a say in how the public-supporting revenue that we generate gets used." – Erica Cardarelli, BCLDB employee and BCGEU steward
"Neither our meeting with Robinson's ministerial assistant or yesterday's Throne Speech offered us any reassurance that our call is being heard." – Kusam Doal, BCGEU vice president Kusam Doal and BCLDB employee
On March 26, 2020, the provincial government declared BCLDB workers in retail stores and warehouses to be essential.
Despite their status as essential workers, these workers were not included in the provincial government's Temporary Pandemic Pay program (TPP), which was announced in May.
On May 29, after the TPP was announced, the BCGEU launched a petition and letter-writing campaign calling on the public to tell their MLAs to provide pandemic pay to all frontline workers. The campaign produced 2,100 letters.
BCLDB members also wrote to then Finance Minister, Carole James, asking to include them. James did not include BCLDB workers in the TPP but publicly encouraged "all businesses who've seen an increase in revenue to ensure that their workers are being properly compensated at this difficult time."
In September, workers then asked their employer, BCLDB General Manager and CEO Blain Lawson, to allocate just 20 per cent of excess revenue generated during Q4 of 2019/2020 to pandemic pay for all BCLDB employees. Lawson ultimately declined, claiming he was an advocate of employees but ultimately didn't have the power to authorize use of BCLDB revenue.
In December, as the second wave of the pandemic intensified and British Columbians headed into the holiday season, workers at BCLDB stores and warehouses ramped up their campaign to be recognized and compensated as essential workers by wearing Essential Pay for Essential Work buttons on the job. Over 3,500 buttons have been distributed and worn. Workers also requested meetings with Lawson and Robinson, neither of which were fulfilled. Workers then initiated an action survey and launched bcldb.bcgeu.ca.
On March 16, 2021, at the BCLDB's virtual employee town hall, over 600 BCLDB workers across the province asked Lawson to provide essential pay. Many workers were removed or denied access to the town hall when expressing their call for essential pay. Lawson ultimately deferred to government to authorize use of BCLDB funds for essential pay.
On March 30, workers and supporters began emailing the Finance Minister, calling on her to authorize Lawson and the BCLDB to provide financial compensation to workers in recognition of their essential work during the pandemic. Over 1,700 emails have been sent.
On April 9, BCGEU Component 5 Vice President and BCLDB employee Kusam Doal met with the Finance Minister's ministerial assistant to discuss the request for essential pay, however no concrete assurance was offered. On April 12, the Throne Speech made no indication that BCLDB workers would receive essential pay from the B.C. Budget.
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