Some 9,000 workers at the Canada Border Services Agency are bracing for strike votes starting next week, even as talks to reopen the Canada-US border are underway.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada union said on Thursday that its 5,500 border services officers, 2,000 headquarters employees and other workers in Canada Post facilities and law enforcement jobs will begin Wednesday strike votes, which will then continue throughout the month.
The workers, employed by the CBSA and the Treasury Board, have been without a contract for nearly three years and say talks broke between the two sides in December.
The union and employers were unable to agree on better protections for staff which the union said would bring them closer to other law enforcement staff across Canada and fight against a “toxic” work culture.
“CBSA employees have been on the front lines of the pandemic from day one; keep our borders secure, screen travelers for COVID-19 and clear vital vaccine shipments through customs, ”PSAC National President Chris Aylward said in a statement.
“Our members stood up for Canadians, but now is the time for the government to stand up for them.
The Office of the President of the Treasury Board said in an email that it had “the utmost respect” for border officers and was disappointed the union rejected a “fair” offer that included wage adjustments.
“We remain committed to reaching agreements with all bargaining agents that are fair to employees, aware of today’s economic and fiscal environment, and reasonable to Canadians,” the release said.
“Out of respect for the collective bargaining process, we will not comment further on the negotiations. “
The PSAC strike speech comes as New York Congressman Brian Higgins on Thursday said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Joe Biden will discuss plans to reopen the Canada-U.S. Border during 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 rushed to lock down their countries and stop the spread of the virus through travel.
While vaccination efforts have increased dramatically since then, politicians, including Higgins, have pushed for the border to reopen.
The latest border closure will remain in place until June 21.
As the deadline approaches, the PSAC and the alliance’s Customs and Immigration Union urged the government to address issues that may cause their members to go on strike.
The unions said they had met with 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 impact travelers at the border.
“We are ready and willing to return to the table to negotiate a fair contract that recognizes our commitment to Canadians,” CIU National President Jean-Pierre Fortin said in a statement.
“But we are fed up with the lack of respect the employer has shown our members.”
When asked about the matter, Blair’s office questioned the CBSA, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As the two sides attempt to resolve their issues, they wait to receive recommendations from a public interest commission they appeared before in May to present arguments regarding compensation.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 10, 2021.