By Daniel Tseghay
Since January 23rd the five bookstore employees at the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC), a public safety educator, have been on strike. Their previous contract expired on June 30th of 2016 and they began negotiations in November with the assistance of their union, the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU).
The core issue for the workers is wage parity with bookstores at other post-secondary institutions in the lower mainland. The current base starting rate for new employees is $14.21 an hour at JIBC while one of the positions at the University of British Columbia bookstore is $17.40 an hour. At Simon Fraser University, one position starts at $21.07 an hour. On average, JIBC bookstore employees are earning about $5 an hour less than bookstore employees at comparable schools in the area.
“The employer has refused to agree that we are similar to those bookstores without an explanation,” says Dawna Hieltjes, an employee of the JIBC bookstore who has worked there for 8 years, in an interview with Rankandfile.ca. “They’re saying we’re no different than a Chapters.”
Hieltjes, and her 4 colleagues, all women who’ve worked there ranging from a year to 5 years, like the work they do and would rather not have to picket the store. There are a number of campuses across the province and many students who take courses online. “I think we do more than bookstores,” says Hieltjes. “We have a lot of custom or special order uniform items that we carry at the store that you can only get from us. We do a lot of one-on-one customer service, in particular for the paramedic students, and for for the firefighting students, as far as uniforms go.”
They therefore see wage parity as the least the employer, JM Project Management which is contracted out by the school, can do. But in addition to wage parity, employees have brought forward to other items to the bargaining table, both dismissed immediately. One was to have family coverage for their Medical Services Plan and the other an improvement to the statutory pay rules that are in their current contract. Because 4 of the 5 employees work part-time, they very rarely achieve enough hours to receive statutory pay.
On January 13th, the employer walked away from the bargaining table, forcing a strike vote. Since then, however, they did have one other bargaining date, on February 1st, with the employer re-submitting the same proposal that the employees rejected in their previous meeting. The only addition was “a signing bonus of a ridiculously small amount,” according to Hieltjes.
And so, since January 23rd, the 5 employees, as well as supporters and BCGEU representatives have been at JIBC 7 days a week, from the school’s opening until its closing.
What’s next is unclear. Currently there are no meetings scheduled with the employer. “There has been no communication from the employer as far as reaching out and getting back to the bargaining table,” says Hieltjes. “We’re ready to do that. We’re just tired of playing their games and wasting our time which is what we feel has been happening when it comes to the monetary issues.”
“We want to get back to the table so we can come to a fair resolution because we really love our jobs there and that’s why we’re fighting for this,” Hieltjes. “We’re more than ready to get back into that store and continue working. We want to get back to work with fair wages.”