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Public Service Bargaining: Next Steps - BC General Employees' Union (BCGEU)

Last Friday marked the end of the sixth week of negotiations between the BCGEU Public Service Bargaining Committee and the provincial government’s Public Service Agency (PSA).
As we have previously reported, talks have been stalled as we wait for the government to authorize a revised wage offer. The employer has reiterated that the wage proposals tabled previously were the maximum authorized. Your bargaining committee is unanimous that we need a wage proposal which addresses the dramatic increases in the cost of living as well as the other key proposals we have tabled with the employer.
This morning, Stephanie Smith, BCGEU President and Chair of the BCGEU Public Service Bargaining Committee spoke with CKNW’s Michael Smyth about public service bargaining. “What we’re looking for and what we think is very reasonable are cost of living adjustments… Our members over the last two years have learned their worth, they know their value, they know their contributions to our province, and they know that they are critically important in the economic recovery as we move forward.”
Your committee remains committed to our goal of reaching a tentative collective agreement before March 31st when the current agreement expires. We are in regular contact with the government negotiators, and we are able to resume bargaining on short notice once we are advised that government has authorized a more realistic wage offer. We have heard loud and clear from members that a fair wage increase is key to ratifying an agreement. As inflation rises and the cost-of-living skyrockets, public service workers are falling further behind. This is our challenge in these negotiations.
While our goal continues to be a negotiated deal by month end, we have begun the process of discussing essential services with the employer. Under the Labour Code, a union and employer must address the issue of which services are essential in the event of a strike or lockout. The negotiation of essential services is a normal part of the negotiation process.
Here are some of the typical questions members may have about essential services.
What are essential services?
It is important to note that essential services under the Labour Relations Code are not the same as those which have been identified by government through the current pandemic. Essential services are determined by a specific definition that is unique to the Labour Relations Code.
Section 72(2) of the Labour Relations Code defines essential services as “facilities, productions and services” that are “necessary or essential to prevent immediate and serious danger to the health, safety or welfare of the residents of British Columbia.” 
How are essential services designated?
The employer and the union will first attempt to negotiate essential service levels without the intervention of the Labour Relations Board (LRB). While the union has been working diligently to prepare for these negotiations, the size and scope of B.C.’s Public Service makes this a significant undertaking that will take considerable time.
At this point in time, your bargaining committee awaits the employer’s disclosure of organizational material that is necessary to further address essential service issues. We also understand that ministries are in the process of identifying their designates to lead this process.
Typically, the next step would involve the employer identifying their essential service requests to the union. We will then weigh these requests and agree or provide a counterproposal, depending on the circumstances.
What if no agreement can be reached?
Where the parties disagree about any aspect of essential services designations either party may apply to the Chair of the LRB to investigate, mediate and possibly adjudicate the issue.
The LRB has identified the use of essential services as serving two goals: (1) avoiding immediate and serious danger to the health, safety or welfare of British Columbia; and (2) protecting the meaningful nature of collective bargaining and strike action.
When will a strike vote be held?
Our goal continues to be a negotiated agreement which addresses the key issues you have identified. Timing of a strike vote will be decided by your bargaining committee if we feel a negotiated agreement is not possible. In any event, a strike vote will not be called until the current agreement expires on March 31st. Again, a strike vote does not mean that there will be a strike. In fact, the history of labour relations in BC shows that often the stronger the strike vote is the less likely it is that a union will need to exercise the vote.
What is the timing of essential services negotiations?
The complexity, size and scope of the BC Public Service means that the negotiation of essential services may take some time. Your bargaining committee may decide to conduct a strike vote while essential service negotiations are underway.
Member Portal - My Account Improvements

Our union just released an improved version of the Member Portal to give new and existing members greater ability to manage their personal contact information. The changes consolidate all personal contact information into a new My Account section to enable members to manage multiple emails, phone numbers and personal addresses. All members should ensure that their contact information is current to receive important regular updates during the bargaining process. 
In the coming days, further bulletins will address other issues relating to strike vote preparations. 

In solidarity,

Your BCGEU Public Service Bargaining Committee
Stephanie Smith, President
Paul Finch, Treasurer
Judy Phipps, Executive Vice President
Dean Purdy, Vice President - Component 1
Kusam Doal, Vice President - Component 5
Judy Fox-McGuire, Vice President - Component 6
Cynthia Mepham-Egli, Component 6 Acting First Vice-Chairperson
Maria Middlemiss, Vice President - Component 12
Matt Damario, Component 12 First Vice-Chairperson
Robert Davis, Vice President - Component 20
Michael Eso, Secretary and Lead Negotiator
Lisa Lane, Support Staff