Saying issues of public safety far outweigh any pay increase, the Professional Employees' Association sits down with the province today as contract talks begin anew.
In order to push their concerns into the public eye, about 40 local association members marched through downtown Kamloops during the noon hour Tuesday.
"We want to identify that we are here, that we are important, and that we are professionals working for the government," said Kathy Danchuk, a forester with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources.
The fast-moving group made a loop through the downtown, beginning and ending on Columbia Street. They attracted honks from passing motorists and smiles from pedestrians. The men and women stopped occasionally to wave their signs in the air and talk to the media.
Since taking power a decade ago, the B.C. Liberals have reduced the number of licensed professional by 26 per cent. Danchuk said 10 per cent of their numbers were slashed during the last two years.
The association represents a variety of professionals from foresters like Danchuk to pharmacists, engineers, scientists and architects.
By cutting professional positions — say the engineers who inspect bridges — the province is putting lives at risk, said Danchuk.
"The work just isn't getting done," she said.
Contacted by phone, Al Gallupe, a labour relations officer with the association, said the union is also concerned about the number of jobs the province contracts out when it could be hiring licensed professionals.
He said 80 per cent of the jobs with the Ministry of Transportation are on contract.
Members recently voted 92 per cent in favour of a strike, the first in the association's history. Gallupe said this is a matter his people believe strongly in.
As for the contract, the association's deal with the province expired in March. Gallupe said members would like a three-per-cent raise over two years.
However, the association realizes their little 2,600-person union doesn't have the clout of the larger labour organizstions. He said this is why they are asking the province to restock their ranks.
Danchuk said everyone wants more money, but it's beefing up the professional ranks that those who marched Tuesday are most concerned about.
Kamloops-North Thompson NDP candidate Kathleen Kendall and Tom Friedman, the New Democrat's candidate for Kamloops-South Thompson, joined the march in support.
Rallies also took place in Victoria, Terrace, Surrey and Prince George.