Support staff at the BC General Employees Union in Fort St. John went on strike Tuesday.

The staff are represented by the Movement of United Professionals union (MoveUP), and their roles cover administration, IT, and everything in between.

MoveUP president David Black says 150 workers across the province are striking, with grievances revolving around the changing nature of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff want the flexibility to work from home, better compensation, and more manageable workloads.

“Wages and benefits are always something that the parties always discuss, but with this round of bargaining it’s about what the future of world of work looks like,” Black said.

“We’ve just come through a pandemic, or are coming through a pandemic, and I think many of us, myself included, were surprised at how quickly and easily at what we thought needed to be done at the office, didn’t need to be done at the office.”

The collective agreement between MoveUP and the BCGEU expired at the end of March 2021, with a 72-hour strike notice delivered on Friday after a final offer was rejected.

BCGEU President Stephanie Smith said they made no concessions in their negotiations, but feels they heard what the bargaining priorities were from staff.

“We believe that we tabled proposals that balanced those priorities with the needs of our membership,” she said. “I think it’s really important to say that of course we’ve learned lessons about what can be done in terms of working from home, but we’re a union and those offices are union halls – it’s not a corporate office.”

“Members go to those offices everyday, looking for services from their union, and we have an obligation to provide those services.”

Smith added she’s open to further discussions, with the ability to work remotely already having been offered at the bargaining table.

“We honestly felt we made a genuine and heartfelt attempt to address all of the priorities they raised during bargaining,” she said. “For me the priority always comes back to members, I adore my staff. I value our staff, so it is that balancing act.”

press release from MoveUP notes the possibility of “rolling strikes or a full strike if the impasse continues.” Black said it’s a unique situation where a union is striking a union, but expects to come to an agreement sooner than later.

“The BCGEU has a real opportunity to practice what they preach, to walk the talk by making sure that their own staff are provided the things that the BCGEU has spent the last 20 months fighting for,” said MoveUP Vice-President Christy Slusarenko in the release.