Bargaining and The Grand Tour

I write this just as we’ve finished another three days of bargaining. As time marches on the smaller items of contention are falling by the wayside, either with agreement or withdrawn from the table. This leaves us with fewer items in number to negotiate, but weightier issues that require much more debate amongst our own team let alone when we are negotiating the words with the employer. Some proposals on the table have the potential to alter the way we structure our lives at work and we must carefully consider the pros and cons of any change to our existing contract.

Monetary issues have been tabled by the Union ranging from leave provisions and doctor’s note fees to of course the overdue salary increases, but the employer is reticent to reply to any, claiming that they are waiting for their mandate from the Public Sector Employer’s Counsel (PSEC). This is odd considering that BCGEU’s employer has already tabled their monetary offer even though their contract is JUST expiring, and ours expired December 31st. We assume they are waiting for some of the other, larger, players to move further along but if each collective agreement offer is based on our own potential savings to the company...let’s get going!

To find out more about where we are at with bargaining, attend your regional meetings! I just came back from Prince George where I made a presentation at the North regional meeting, attended by coworkers from Dawson Creek, Williams Lake and Terrace as well. This week our entire bargaining team attended the North Lower Mainland Regional in Burnaby, then Surrey on Wednesday night for the South Lower Mainland. Coming soon: the North Island, the Okanagan (with separate presentations in Kelowna and Kamloops) and the Kootenays soon after that.

Currently we’re more than a little perturbed by the fact that some issues at the bargaining table are being presented by office managers as a done deal when not only is the ink not dry, but there is no agreement yet. This follows on the heels of the employer posting the desires of the board of directors for long range ideals as corporate targets... and tabling proposals along those lines. Sorry people, but that’s called bargaining directly with the employees and is a sign of bargaining in bad faith. Bring it to the table and hold your tongue until the ink is dry thank you very much.

This approach to bargaining is amateur and does not bode well for what I had taken initially as a positive and fast round of bargaining. It’s time for the employer not to take our goodwill for granted and take this seriously. We have already had to tell their team that not only do our coworkers not expect rhetoric from their union, they also expect the employer to bargain co-operatively and not play games during this process; our livelihoods are at stake.

At the same time the employer released a carefully contrived internal press release within which it was announced that all managers who were not at their top pay step would receive a 1 to 3% bump in pay pretty much immediately. While told that this is similar to the step increments that field staff earn every year if not at their maximum salary, the optics are particularly bad.

A ‘flexible benefits’ proposal was tabled by the employer whereby employees have to play Russian roulette with their health care needs for future years. An analogy would be timing the market with stock or RRSP choices... good luck; maybe you’ll get lucky, or maybe you’ll lose. When your health, or the health of your loved ones hangs in the balance... that’s not a game I choose to play. Our delegates at our contractual AGM voted unanimously not to entertain any ideas of flexible benefits and that is our steadfast position at the bargaining table.

It is not lost on me that NO other union within BC had accepted flexible benefits, only managers within government that had it forced upon them. Our own Pacific Blue Cross who provide our benefits attempted to force flexible benefits on their employees...our CUPE brothers and sisters who process our claims. They refused to entertain it...even though, or perhaps because, they are in a much better position to understand the ramifications of such a plan. More information about this will be coming to you in advance of a strike vote.

That’s right...a strike vote. Don’t let that worry you... BC Assessment has never gone on strike, but it seems inevitable that our employer and the government t large wants to test our resolve to achieve a fair pay and benefits package for the first time in a long time. This requires a strike vote which is a test of your support for the bargaining committee. Give us a strong mandate and we will achieve our utmost.

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