Hundreds of unionized workers in Kamloops were on the picket line Wednesday, joining 27,000 colleagues around B.C. in the first such job action in nearly 25 years.
Pickets for the one-day walkout were up at government liquor stores on the North and South shores, beside the government precinct on Columbia Street, at Ministry of Children and Families' offices downtown as well in front of Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Forests on Dalhousie Drive.
"We're not strike-happy," said Doug Kinna, a provincial BCGEU provincial executive member, adding the union has given two proposals to government that it says would raise revenues by $300 million. Those are more Sunday openings for government liquor stores and putting sheriffs on the road to do extra duties, including traffic enforcement.
Kinna spent the day walking the picket line and speaking with members here at a number of locations. He estimated there are 1,100 members in Kamloops, several hundred of them deemed to be an essential service and kept on the job.
Marching alongside members of B.C. Government and Service Employees Union in some locations were members of Professional Employees Association, representing government foresters, engineers and other professions.
The courthouse building was deemed to house essential services and operated as usual. Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre was also staffed as an essential service.
"Today it's very positive," said Trudy Goold, a representative with the Professional Employees Union. "We've been around for 38 years and it's our first strike."
Government workers on Columbia Street were restricted to a corner of Fifth Avenue and did not picket the courthouse and precinct around it.
"I think people are respecting our picket line," Goold said.
At the Northills Mall government liquor store, drivers pulled slowly in and out of the lot after seeing a handful of picketing workers outside.
Customer Shannon Milman was caught off guard by the strike and was unable to buy some coolers. But she didn't begrudge the government store workers looking for a wage hike.
"I did come out from Brock," she said. "It's a bit cheaper (than private stores). But they need the money. It's tough right now."
Karl Wolfe, a longtime liquor store worker and union representative, acknowledged customers were typically driving across the street to a private store.
"It's not a fight against the private sector. I had one customer who said, 'Maybe I'll go to Safeway and get some O'Doul's,'" Wolfe said of the non-alcohol beer.
Al Deacon, owner of the private Sahali Liquor Store, expected sales to be up about 25 per cent by the end of the day. He said the strike gave private stores "an opportunity to showcase ourselves.
"We certainly did notice. I want them to go out for the rest of the summer."
Deacon added the one-day strike will cause some temporary delivery problems in the industry.
More than 27,000 unionized government workers have been without a contract since March 31. They are demanding 3.5 per cent in the first year, followed by a cost of living increase. Government had earlier offered 3.5 per cent over two years for employees coming off several years of no raise.
Members of Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union who work at ICBC were slated to go out alongside those from BCGEU and PEA but there were no pickets or signs of job action in Kamloops from that group.
Kinna estimated there are about 1,100 BCGEU members without a contract in the Kamloops area. Several hundred of those were deemed an essential service.
"Our fight is not with British Columbians," Kinna said. "It's for government to give us a fair and reasonable agreement."
The two sides have not met since June.
Speaking to reporters by conference call in Victoria, Premier Christy Clark said government is remaining steadfast in its offer.
"The government's position on this hasn't changed," Clark said.
"I am not going back to taxpayers for more money in order to give government workers a raise. I am just simply not going to do it. And we are in very tough economic times. We have to balance our budget."
Following the day off the job Wednesday, government workers are expected to return to business as usual.
"We'll be back at work tomorrow," Goold said. "We don't know what will happen next."