Ottawa: About 9,000 Canadian Border Services Agency workers are preparing for strike votes starting next week as talks on the Canada-US border resume.
The Public Service Coalition of the Canadian Federation said Thursday that its 5,500 Border Service officers, 2,000 headquarters workers and other workers at Canada Post facilities and inland enforcement jobs will begin a strike vote on Wednesday, which will continue throughout the month.
The employees employed by the CBSA and the Treasury Board have been without a contract for nearly three years and say talks broke down between the two sides in December.
Unions and employers have been unable to agree on better protections for employees that the union argues would bring them in line with other law enforcement personnel across Canada and address a “toxic” workplace culture.
“CBSA employees have been on the front lines of the pandemic from day one; Chris Aylward, PSAC national president, said in a release, screening travelers for COVID-19 and approving critical vaccine shipments, while keeping our borders safe.
“Our members have stepped up for Canadians, but now is the time for the government to step up for them.”
The Treasury Board chairman’s office said in an email that it had “the greatest honor” for border officials and was disappointed that the union rejected a “fair” offer that included a pay adjustment.
“We are committed to making agreements with all bargaining agents that are fair to employees, taking into account today’s economic and financial context, and fair to Canadians,” the statement said.
“In respect of the collective bargaining process, we will not comment further on the negotiations.”
The PSAC strike comes as New York Congressman Brian Higgins said on Thursday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Joe Biden will discuss plans to reopen the Canada-US border at the G7 summit this week.
The border has been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began and authorities scrambled to lock down their countries and stop the spread of the virus through travel.
As vaccination efforts have increased significantly since then, politicians including Higgins have been pushing to reopen the border.
The latest border closure will remain in force till June 21.
As the deadline draws closer, PSAC and the Coalition’s Customs and Immigration Union are urging the government to address issues that may prompt their members to strike.
The unions said they met Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, urging them to return to the table with a new mandate to avoid a labor dispute that could affect travelers at the border.
“We are ready and ready to return to the table to negotiate a fair contract that recognizes our commitment to the Canadian people,” CIU national president Jean-Pierre Fortin said in a statement.
“But we are fed up with the disrespect shown by the employer of our members.”
Asked about the matter, Blair’s office asked questions to CBSA, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As the two sides try to sort out their issues, they are waiting to receive recommendations from a Public Interest Commission, which appeared in May to argue about compensation.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 10, 2021.