Liquor store employees in Kelowna get 10% wage hike after unionizing | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Liquor store employees in Kelowna get 10% wage hike after unionizing

The Berezan Hospitality Group's liquor store on Roxby Road and Highway 33 in Kelowna.

Hundreds of liquor store workers across B.C. started earning more money after one employee from Kelowna started organizing a union.

Within the past month, employees from three of nine liquor stores owned by Berezan Hospitality Group voted to join the Service Employees International Union Local 2 Branch 244. Cody Dilullo spearheaded the efforts in Kelowna.

Dilullo started working at the Rutland location in February 2022. Months later earned a promotion from cashier to key holder only to learn that the extra responsibility came with no extra pay. He said workers were also subject to bullying, favouritism, poor staffing levels, low quality training, a lack of fairness and workplace safety that wasn’t taken seriously.

He admits he could have just tried to find another job.

“But if I started over at a new job and spent months earning a promotion, only to get no raise again, I’d be in the exact same position,” Dilullo said. “I would much rather be in a position where 200 to 250 employees are all earning more money and getting improved working conditions… than for me to just jump ship.”

However the process of organizing a union was “nerve-racking,” he said.

“Every step of the way I was worried, ‘Am I going to lose my job?’ I know my rights and organized by the book but it's still not an easy thing to do. You’re going toe to toe with people who have a lot more resources than you,” Dilullo said, referring to the company.

The Kelowna location became certified to join the union, Aug. 22. 

READ MORE: B.C. public sector union says it's ending job action amid hope for deal

Employees from the other seven stores became aware of their colleagues unionizing and then workers from the Port Moody location joined the unionization effort, Aug. 24.

After Dilullo got in touch with an employee from a location in Surrey, they found themselves sharing common frustrations over the working conditions. Coincidentally the employee from Surrey had already contacted the same union, and the Surrey store became certified, Sept. 2.

Around that time, a 10% raise was offered to employees who were not unionized.

Milo Buckingham, director of operations with Berezan, said that raise was going to apply to unionized employees as well, but it couldn’t be implemented at unionized locations until talks could be held with the union.

Berezan’s human resource department had been assessing employee wage increases since October of 2021, Buckingham said.

He disputes the notion the raise was an effort to dissuade employees at other locations from unionizing. The wage increase was implemented immediately following the results of the assessment, and the timing was unfortunate, he said.

READ MORE: B.C. union imposes overtime ban in latest job action to back wage demands

Chester Duggan, an organizer with SEIU Local 2, said offering non-unionized employees a raise to try and dissuade them from organizing is a typical tactic.

“Saying to the workers, ‘We’ll give the increase and you won’t have to pay union dues.’”

Workers were only unionized for a few weeks before the discrepancy over pay was taken to the Labour Relations Board. The timing of the raises that excluded unionized workers discriminated against the unionized stores, and its purpose was to discourage the non-unionized employees from joining SEIU, the union argued.

On Sept. 15, a settlement was reached between Berezan and the union – members will receive a 9.76% raise retroactive to Sept. 1.

Duggan says the next step for the newly-unionized workers is bargaining for their first collective agreement.

“Winning this settlement is a step in the direction of transparency and fairness,” Clair Poule, supervisor at the Port Moody location, said in a press release from SEIU Local 2. “These values are super important in any team effort, and some of the larger goals we are hoping to achieve through collective bargaining.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Dan Walton or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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