Businesses say they’re taking a financial hit as BCGEU strike continues

Strike action by BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU) members appears to be having a major impact on local businesses.

Job action comes after many in the B.C. economy spent more than two years struggling with COVID-19 restrictions. Two weeks into the strike and a new survey is finding out just how much businesses are struggling.

BC’s Alliance of Beverage Licensees (ABLE BC) surveyed 400 pubs, bars, nightclubs, restaurants, wineries, private liquor stores, and craft brewers, and learned many are taking a financial hit, with liquor availability limited across the province.

“This dispute is between the BCGEU and government, but it’s hurting us,” said Jeff Guignard, executive director of ABLE BC. “We’re only two weeks into this strike, and already businesses are starting to lay off workers and look at shutting their doors. They’re worried about the future of their businesses and the people they employ. This must stop before it gets worse.”

The survey found about one-in-five business owners have lost $20,000 in profit so far. Meanwhile, 20 per cent of survey respondents say they have had to reduce their staff’s hours, while others have cut employees already as many others indicate they’ll do the same unless something changes.

“Unions absolutely have the right to strike in support of their members, but this strike is now causing damage to an industry of 10,000 small businesses and 200,000 workers. We’re relieved that both sides are back at the negotiating table, but they we need them to hammer out a deal now to prevent further harm to our industry,” added Guignard.

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Eighty per cent of those in B.C.’s liquor and hospitality sector told ABLE BC they’re “worried about the viability of their businesses.”

Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, says owners are frustrated and everyone is hoping a deal is done soon.

“They feel, ‘We’re not part of this dispute, we can just do nothing,’ and that’s the hardest part. Every day they wake up and go, ‘Now we’re in a blackout. Are we going to hear something today? We don’t know.’ Even if they announce a deal today, there is still some time for ratification and I think at that point, we’re really hoping the BCGEU may consider opening the warehouses while they go back and get the vote from their members to approve the deal, is an act of good faith. It would really, really help our industry a lot,” he told CityNews.

Talks continue between the provincial government and the union, though it’s unclear how close they are to finding middle ground.

The BCGEU and its 33,000 members have been offered an 11 per cent wage hike by the province over the next three years under what would be a new collective agreement. Given the rising cost of living, the union has said that is not enough. The union’s last agreement expired in early April and talks have been on and off since then.

“Our members have been crystal clear since day one that their priority this round of bargaining was cost of living protection for their wages,” BCGEU President Stephanie Smith said in an earlier statement.

The union says a total of almost 400,000 public sector workers have agreements that will, or already have, expired this year.

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